While very little could be learned regarding the who will be the heir to the Tigers’ most
coveted position of quarterback in the annual Orange and White game, even with split-squads, onething was made very clear—the defense may be the best that the Tigers have ever had.
Even with the losses of Orangeburg native and starting safety Jadar Johnson, defensive lineman CarlosWatkins, cornerback Cordrea Tankersley and, undisputed leader of the defense, linebacker BenBoulware the 2017 squad has no thoughts of suffering a drop-off. In fact, they are hoping to go down in the history books as the best defense to ever play at Clemson—a big feat considering just three years ago the 2014 defense ranked No. 1 in the nation in total defense, while leading the country in 11 defensive categories.
However, for the Tigers defensive coordinator is not ready to hand out any awards yet, as it is only the spring.
“(I’m) Pleased with the progress,” Venables said. “We have concerns—I don’t necessarily need to share those right now. There’s a ton of improvement fundamentally, understanding, toughness, depth, playmaking—a lot of things.”
But not everyone is buying the coach’s analysis, viewing it more as coach speak, coming from the
Clemson coach who is the hardest to please.
The Clemson defense was ranked by ESPN as the No. 2 ranked defense in the nation heading into the 2017 season in their annual future defense power rankings, behind perennial defensive power Alabama.
“It’s easy to forget when watching Clemson’s electric offense, but the Tigers have been and will continue to be propelled by an elite defense,” ESPN’s Adam Rittenburg said. “Clemson nearly claimed the top spot (in the ranking) because it has a defensive line set up better than anyone else in the country. Christian Wilkins and Dexter Lawrence a generational-type talents, and Clemson will have Wilkins for at least another year and Lawrence for two or three more.”
It is not just the two All-American candidates in Wilkins and Lawrence that have the Tigers boasting the best defensive line in the nation heading into the summer, it is a bevy of four and five-star’s that have just been waiting their turn—much like last season’s postseason breakout player Clelin Ferrell.
“The buzz is building for end Clelin Ferrell, who broke out during last season’s College Football Playoff and could end up being Clemson’s most explosive pass rusher. He has three years of eligibility,” Rittenburg continued. “Other players with multiple years of eligibility include Austin Bryant, Richard Yeargin and (Orangeburg native) Albert Huggins.
“Clemson also recently has landed top recruits, including Xavier Kelly and Sterling Johnson. ‘That defensive line, it’s pretty special,’ an ACC coach said.”
For the first time since he took over in 2012, Venables is being asked about the holes on his defense.
Instead he is being asked: How good can this defense be?
And while Venables remains reluctant to put the cart before the horse when it comes to his defense, one coach has no problem making the bullish claims that have made him famous.
“I think we’re going to be very good on defense,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “I thought that before we ever took the first snap in spring ball, because I think we’ve recruited well. I think we’ve got a lot of really good people on the field…When you’ve got that, that’s a real positive for you, especially when you’re hoping to play a lot of ballgames—more than just 12.”