There is no one happier to see a healthy Dexter Lawrence than Brent Venables.
When the 6-foot-5, 338-pound junior walked by him to talk with the media after Tuesday’s practice, a big grin came over Venables’ face as he yelled, “We are talking about you over here!”
“He is as soft as he has ever been,” Venables said sarcastically while laughing at himself.
Clemson’s defensive coordinator just could not stop smiling. He loves the fact he has his big defensive tackle back and playing healthy again.
“A healthy version of Dexter Lawrence is a good thing. It is way different,” he said.
Venables said Lawrence was playing his defensive tackle position with one leg for most of last season. He did not play in two games (Florida State and The Citadel) and missed most of the Georgia Tech and NC State games as well.
“There is not a harder or more physically demanding position to play on the team than playing defensive tackle. So, playing on one leg is a hard thing,” Venables said. “He missed two, three or four games there late in the season, most of Georgia Tech and a lot of the NC State game so he was out there with one leg so it is really hard to play that position or any position. You have to take on double teams and all of that.”
Venables said Lawrence being hurt last season was an issue for the defense, yet Clemson still led the ACC in scoring, total, rushing and passing defense. Imagine how good the Tigers might have been had Lawrence been healthy.
“I’d say I was about 45-50 percent last season,” Lawrence said. “But now I’m feeling much better. It was a big turnaround for me. It’s a blessing. I got a little down, I didn’t know if I was ever going to come back but I just kept with it.”
Lawrence said he got to 100-percent for the first time during the second summer session last month. He said one day he finally was keeping up with his position group while running sprints. He said he really realized it when he was in the training room getting treatment and he was able to get on his toes for the first time in over a year.
“It kind of came out of nowhere,” he said. “I was there all the time, but I was still building my strength and the feeling just came back.”
The issue came from a surgery on Lawrence’s toe after spring practice in 2017. The surgery irritated some of the nerves in his leg due to a nerve block.
“Last year around this time I had a club foot, basically,” Lawrence said laughing. “That’s what Christian calls it. But I can get on my toes again. I can bounce on them, I can move. My speed is back so I am feeling good.”
So is his defensive coordinator. Venables loves having his big guy back, and he knows Lawrence loves being back too.
“He loves to play. He has been really, really good,” Venables said. “He loves the camaraderie, the brotherhood. That is what he likes as much as anything.”