CLEMSON—The leader of a Clemson defense was in a good mood the Tigers’ annual Orange and White game three weeks ago, and for good reason as he defenses allowed a combined 223 yards rushing (157 yards for the orange team and 66 yards for the white team) and 266 combined passing yards (137 yards for the orange team and 129 yards for the white team.
The dominant performance by the both the orange and the white defensive unit should come as no surprise, as the 2017 defense may be the best he has ever coached. But for Venables, those kinds of things are better evaluated at the end of season, rather than after 15 spring practices.
“Every year, I don’t care if you have experience or are a starter or not, I don’t ever look at it that way,” Venables said. “I know we’ve got enough guys to be good and how good we’ll be—we’ll see.”
How good this year’s squad can be will be shown over the next couple of months, as the Tigers move away from organized practices to individuals work, the weight room and unofficial player-led practices. Those are the things that will begin to define just how good this defense can be for the Tigers.
“If we don’t have good leadership or guys are going to be selfish, or guys that aren’t willing to put in the work or be consistent about going to class and doing all the little things the right way, then we won’t be worth a flip,” Venables said. “So, there’s a lot still in front of us before you can make any guesstimations or predictions of that nature.
“I’m anxious to see. I think there’s a good group of guys that like to work, and seem to have a pretty good chemistry, and I think we have guys that are capable of being good leaders. So, hopefully they’ll flourish in their roles.”
While Venables was slow to name names of the players who have made a leap forward this spring, naming only Isaiah Simmons, Tanner Muse and Nyles Pickney, he did take advantage of the chance to let three of his defenders know that he needs more out of them when the team reconvenes in August.
“The Smith brothers (linebackers Chad Smith and Shaq Smith, and safety Van Smith), there were three of them out there. There were some good hitting and some guys got their hands on the ball,” Venables said. “We’ve had a chance to evaluate a lot of guys this spring, and now we’re looking for another growth spurt out of them. Physically, mentally, in maturity and in leadership. We are looking for big things out of those guys.”
With the Tigers having completed their spring practice, the mission now becomes to turn the “few guys” who like to “compete and like to work and like to grind” into a unit that enjoys the whole package of what it takes to be great.
And if the Tigers can find that, they may be a pretty good unit.
“That is what the great ones do—they make the others around them better and hold them accountable,” Venables said. “Will we do that? I don’t know. If we do, we will have a chance to be pretty solid. If we don’t, we can be pretty average pretty quick.”