Venables seeing improvement from backup linebackers, safeties, and D-Linemen
When it comes to playing middle linebacker and having experience, few have it better than Clemson. James Skalski returns for his sixth and final season with the Tigers after the “Super Senior” decided to return to school one more year. Last year, the NCAA granted fall sports student-athletes an extra year of eligibility due to the pandemic.
Skalski has already played in 56 games during his Clemson career, including 25 starts. He has started 23 games in the last two seasons. That’s experience few teams have, especially at a position like middle linebacker.
Though Skalski is the quarterback of the defense and will be expected to do a lot once again, defensive coordinator Brent Venables knows he has to get the other guys ready for when Skalski’s college career is over.
After Thursday’s scrimmage at Death Valley, Venables indicated he has worked a lot of people at middle linebacker in camp, four others to be exact. He said Kane Patterson, LaVonta Bentley, Trenton Simpson and Sergio Allen have all got work at middle linebacker.
“They have all repped there and have gotten better. So, you will see a bunch of guys in there that have earned playing time,” Venables said.
Another clean scrimmage. For the second time since preseason camp began the Clemson defense produced another clean scrimmage, at least from a penalty standpoint.
Venables said the defense had just one penalty in Thursday’s scrimmage. The defense had no penalties called on it in the Tigers’ first scrimmage last Saturday.
“It has been a good clean camp from a discipline standpoint and understanding just to be in a good competitive position,” he said. “A lot of pre-snap understanding. You see a bunch of young guys that have grown up and improved with their confidence, improved with their understanding, improved with their technique, just playing within the system, and letting the system help them.
“So, it has been very pleasing to see that discipline show up in live situations.”
Venables learning a lot about backup D-Linemen. Clemson’s defensive coordinator mentioned he has been pleased with what he has seen from his backup defensive linemen, such as Tre Williams, Ruke Orhorhoro, Etinosa Reuben and Darnell Jefferies.
“Those other guys have done really, really well and made improvement,” Venables said. “We just have to get them to be consistent every-day players, as far as showing up and being healthy and all of those little things that it takes to be a good player. But they have really matured and made a ton of improvement fundamentally, pad level and being physical.
“And they are athletic. Ruke, Tre and ET are very athletic guys. They got big bodies and they have some twitch to them, so they are playing within the system and playing with better pad level and fundamentals, that is the biggest thing we have seen from them.”
Safeties are getting better. Venables was asked how his backup safeties have done in fall camp, and the Clemson defensive coordinator said guys like Andrew Mukuba, R.J. Mickens, Tyler Venables, Ray Thornton, Joseph Charleston and Jalyn Phillips have all made huge strides in camp.
Of course, Nolan Turner and Lannden Zanders are expected to be the two starting safeties when the third-ranked Tigers take on No. 5 Georgia on Sept. 4 in Charlotte.
“The other guys have shown a great deal of consistency,” Venables said. “Lannden is better and healthy. He has a good feel and an understanding for things. That group has had a really good fall camp and has made improvement in their strength and their speed numbers and, again, just our overall understanding and consistency every day.”