Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables is not buying all the hype about his 2017 defense just yet.
He says there are too many other variables to consider before you start talking about how good they can be. Yes, he understands the hype surrounding a unit that returns seven starters which ranked in the top 10 nationally in total and scoring defense and shut out Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on its way to winning the national championship.
However, Venables is quick to point out that last year’s success does not grant them anything for this season. For instance, he says for those who think they can be as good or better than the 2014 unit that led the nation in just about every category, he asked these questions.
“Who did we play in ’14 and what were the matchups? How did the offense do or not do? That affects you,” the Clemson coach said. “Those are all things that affect you. What about the kicking game? That affects you.”
In 2014, the Tigers had one of the best punters in the country in Bradley Pinion. He is now about to begin his third season with the San Francisco 49ers. This year, the Tigers will have a new punter, most likely Will Spiers.
“Pinion changed the field,” Venables said. “We had a lot of long fields. I think he set a record for inside the ten or something. Try to go ninety yards on any defense, let alone that defense.
“There are a lot of factors like that. Those are things that I am aware of that affect you. When you add them up, they play a large part in your success, too.”
Another part is depth, which Venables says is a little concerning to him as far as the quality and experience of depth this year’s defense will have.
“We will see about our depth. I’m not convinced that there is incredible depth across the board,” he said. “Depth is quality that to me which means 1A and 1B. There is not many, if not any, drop off at all. I’m not sure that is where it is. I know where it is not, so when I say we will see … those are things that I think about.”
Venables is not trying to downplay things, but instead, unlike the media and the fans, he knows what the real issues are.
“I know where we need to get better,” he said. “Everybody has those issues, but I also know the schedule we are about to play. It is pretty brutal. I also know the quarterbacks we are about to play.”
The Tigers are about to face six of the best quarterbacks in the country in Auburn’s Jarrett Stidham, Syracuse’s Eric Dungey, Louisville’s Lamar Jackson, Florida State’s Deondre Francois, N.C. State’s Ryan Finley and South Carolina’s Jake Bentley.
“They are touting Bentley for all kinds of stuff,” Venables said. “I argue there is no one in college football playing as good of quarterbacks as we will play this year.
“We are probably playing the best collection of quarterbacks in one season that we have played since I have been here.”