With season opener approaching, Tigers have little depth on defense

With season opener approaching, Tigers have little depth on defense

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With season opener approaching, Tigers have little depth on defense

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Monday Morning Quarterback

If Clemson was to play Georgia Tech today, Brent Venables says he has about 15 players ready to go on defense. That’s quiet the contrast from last year, when the Tigers’ defense was made up of close to 30 guys who were ready to play.

But this is college football. A roster changes every year and though the Clemson roster is full of talented players, some are just not ready to play at this time. The good news is the Tigers still have 10 days before they kick off the 2019 season at home against Georgia Tech.

“We are probably right where we are supposed to be, to be honest, all things considered,” Clemson’s defensive coordinator said. “We have a lot to get better at. We are not a great unit by any part, yet. But hopefully, we will be. There is definitely enough buy in. Immaturity is an issue, but guys are growing up fast and we are baptizing them every day.”

This is not the first time Venables has had to reload on defense. In 2015, he had to replace eight starters from a defense that led the country in total yards allowed in 2014.

After his 2015 unit finished in the top 10 nationally, he again had to find seven new starters for the 2016 defense. Again, Clemson finished in the top 10 nationally in total defense and scoring defense.

However, this year’s challenge might be the most difficult for Venables. He is having to replace a defensive front that was arguably the best collection of defensive linemen in the history of college football. Three of those players—Clelin Ferrell, Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence—were taken in the first 17 picks of the NFL Draft this past April, while another—Austin Bryant—was selected in the fourth round.

Cornerback Trayvon Mullen was picked with the 40th overall selection in the second round of the draft. The Tigers also lost linebackers Kendall Joseph and Trey Lamar, as well as quality backups in defensive tackle Albert Huggins, cornerback Mark Fields and linebackers J.D. Davis and Jalen Williams.

In all, Venables is having to replace seven starters and seven other lettermen from a defense that led the nation in scoring defense, ranked fifth in total defense and led the nation again in sacks and tackles for loss, as well as yards allowed per rush.

“We have all been here before,” Venables said. “But it is exciting because it is still a hungry group of guys.  You just have to kind of run them into stuff. You know what I mean? You got to run them into a wall and make them like it. Whatever that looks like, whether it is learning, whether it is getting in the ice bath or eating right, sleeping right, studying the playbook, coming out here competing and handling failure the right way.

“It is all going to help them grow up. So, it is good, though.”

Clemson opens the 2019 season on Aug. 29 at home against the Yellow Jackets. The game is set to kick off at 8 p.m., on the new ACC Network.

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