Before spring practice even began at the end of February, Clemson’s defensive coaches spent a lot of time looking at the things that they really did not do well in 2019.
From the outside, it might appear there was not too much to look over. The Tigers, after all, did finish the year ranked third nationally in scoring defense and sixth in total defense. Opponents averaged just 13.5 points and 288.3 yards per game.
Clemson went the entire regular season without giving up 300 yards of total offense. They also did not allow an opponent to score more than 20 points through the first 13 games.
There wasn’t much the Tigers did wrong on defense in 2019. But don’t tell that to Brent Venables.
“Even when we might have made the play, how can we make it better,” Clemson’s defensive coordinator said. “There is so much of that. If you just look at the end result, we played really good defense. But there is so much we can be better at.”
Where can the Tigers improve on defense in 2020?
It starts up front. Though Clemson is better than most teams on the defensive line, the Tigers’ front four was not as dominant as it has been in years past.
Clemson allowed 116.1 yards per game on the ground, which ranked 19th nationally and third in the ACC. They also allowed 3.3 yards per carry, which also ranked third in the ACC. Again, good numbers, but not where Venables wants them to be.
The Tigers finished second nationally in tackles for loss, but most of those came from the linebackers. Linebacker Isaiah Simmons led the team with 16. Only defensive end Justin Foster had 10 or more tackles behind the line of scrimmage on the defensive line. He led the unit with 10.5.
“There is so much we can be better at, with our fundamentals, our pad level, our eyes, just striking and knocking people back,” Venables said. “Really, our challenge to our defense as a whole, of course we have a lot of work to do with our back seven, I mean a lot, and then up front, reestablishing ourselves from a defensive line standpoint.”
It should help with the editions of 5-star talent, like Brian Bresee, Myles Murphy and DeMonte Capehart, adding depth to the front four and having All-ACC defensive tackle Tyler Davis back, along with veteran players like Foster, Xavier Thomas, Nyles Pinckney and Jordan Williams.
“We need to be able to overwhelm people and we need to be able to knock people back,” Venables said. “When the game is on the line, that is a group we need to be able to hang our hat on. So, the challenge has been made. There is a lot of work to do to get to that point, where we feel, again, like we can go and overwhelm people.
“It starts with attitude. It’s with fundamentals and it’s being physical.”
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