CLEMSON—While many fans of the Clemson Tigers are buying into the hype regarding the 2017 Tiger defense and how they may go down as the greatest defense in the school’s history, there is one person that is constantly pumping the breaks on that kind of talk—defensive coordinator Brent Venables.
The reason for the hesitation on the part of Venables to crown this team’s defense as the best ever is he has already accomplished that feat at Clemson.
In 2014, the Clemson defense finished the season ranked No.1 in total defense, and while this year’s defense certainly has the talent to accomplish that feat once again—Venables sees some issues that will need to be addressed before the Tigers can even be a good defense—let alone a great one.
“(The depth) already wasn’t real good going into, other than linebacker. I didn’t think we had good depth going into this season, probably like a lot of guys, but we’ll have enough guys—we only need 11,” Venables said.
With the depth an area of serious concern for the sixth-year defensive coordinator after the departures of four players on the defensive side of the ball—Scott Pagano, Adrian Baker, Korrin Wiggins and Lasamuel Davis—there is hope that some of the younger talent, like redshirt freshman defensive end Xavier Kelly, can make the jump to impact player this season.
“(Kelly’s) improved from the spring. He’s improved just doing the basic things,” Venables said. “Things like alignment, stance, how he gets off the ball, his foot work, discipline, reading his keys, playing with leverage, playing with quickness, having a plan. He’s doing a lot of things, so far, that have been pleasing and definitely has improved.
“I was a little concerned after the spring in where he was, because my expectation and really knowing our roster, where he needed to be and I’ve been real pleased with his progress. He’s put a lot of work in, a lot of guys have poured into him—his teammates—and helped him all summer and it’s very obvious.”
While the depth is an issue, for Venables the next couple of weeks of camp will ultimately determine who is ready to play, and who can’t cut it at this level.
“I think over the course of the next week or so you’ll start to see guys separate. You have more clarity on who’s ready to play and who’s still needs work,” Venables said. “So, it’s a great teaching time and it’s a great opportunity for us to evaluate, you know, the mentally mature guys. The guys that can handle the grind, and embrace the grind and fight through the tough part of fall camp.”
McCloud at cornerback:
With the announcement on Saturday from head coach Dabo Swinney that junior wide receiver had been working at cornerback while recovering from a hand injury that kept him from being able to catch the ball, the Tigers’ defensive coordinator said that McCloud continued to get reps at the position Tuesday—adding that he is a natural at the position.
“He’s a natural. It’s not asking him to learn a new language,” Venables. “He’s very, very natural there and comfortable, instinctive, tough, physical, competitive—what you though he would be. We offered him a as a corner out of high school.”