Among the many true freshmen who have seen early playing time and gained some experience through the first two games of the season for Clemson are a pair of talented safeties in Tyler Venables and R.J. Mickens.
Both Venables and Mickens made their college debuts in the season opener at Wake Forest, with Venables logging 22 snaps and Mickens seeing the field for a couple. Last Saturday against The Citadel at Death Valley, Venables posted a tackle for loss and a pass breakup while Mickens chipped in with a tackle of his own.
Senior safety Nolan Turner, the veteran leader of the Tigers’ young secondary, has been impressed by what he’s seen from Venables and Mickens when they have been on the field and how they have been able to quickly absorb defensive coordinator Brent Venables’ complex scheme.
“They’re smart football players,” Turner said. “They come in, they’re young guys, but they don’t play young and they don’t prepare young. They’re very mature in their preparation, very smart. It’s not easy to come in as a freshman and just pick things up right away. So, they’ve done a great job. They take their film study very seriously and their preparation on the field very serious.
“When they’ve gotten their opportunities on the field in the last couple of games, they’ve done well with it and making plays, making tackles and just letting their presence be known out there.”
Venables, who is of course the son of Brent, played at nearby Daniel High School and earned all-state honors as a defensive back in 2019 and was also named Offensive Player of the Year for the region. As a junior in 2019, he was a second-team USA Today All-State selection as well as a first-team all-region performer and Player of the Year for the area.
Playing quarterback and safety during his career at Daniel, Venables amassed 73 touchdown passes and 38 rushing touchdowns in three years as a quarterback and is the school’s career passing yardage leader with 6,927 yards.
As a senior last season, the Shrine Bowl selection totaled 75 tackles, including seven for loss, and four interceptions.
“Super tough, strong kid, and he’s super athletic, too – very good hips, very smooth in his movements, his breaks,” Turner said of Venables. “Loves the physicality of football. He can bring it. He’s going to be a special football player, and super smart – you can tell he grew up with Coach V. He can play multiple positions as a freshman. It’s not easy, so he’s got it. He’s going to be a heck of a football player.”
Like Venables, Mickens comes from a great football background and arrived to Clemson with a strong mental foundation as the son of Ray Mickens, Sr., a third-round pick in the 1996 NFL Draft by the New York Jets who played eight seasons with the organization and one year with the Cleveland Browns for a total of 146 career NFL games.
A four-star recruit and All-American Bowl selection coming out of high school, Mickens recorded 211 career tackles, eight interceptions and 40 passes defensed to go with 61 receptions for 1,092 yards and 14 touchdowns offensively as a four-year starter at Carroll High School in Southlake, Texas.
“The first thing that I notice about R.J. is just from the mental side of football, how smart he is,” Turner said. “Just comes in with a lot of football knowledge. You can tell he’s been coached well. Very savvy, good ball skills, moves well. Once he comes in and fills out his frame a little bit … He’s been working out, taking it very serious, and he’s going to be a great football player as well.”
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