Venables says defense has played well despite spring spate of injuries

by - Senior Writer -
Freshman safety Andrew Mukuba has had an impressive spring.
Freshman safety Andrew Mukuba has had an impressive spring.

Despite several of the top players missing this spring, Clemson’s defense has performed well against the Tigers’ explosive offense.

Defensive coordinator Brent Venables met with the media Wednesday and said his group has gotten better this spring.

"I think the good is I've seen where we have gotten better in a lot of areas, fundamentally, physically, and technique," Venables said. "I think 10 of our top 22 defenders have missed half of spring or more with protocol or whatnot. It is what it is. And then obviously Jamie Skalski, Nolan Turner, Baylon Spector, Lannden Zanders, and K.J. Henry didn't take any live reps.

"I think overall we gave up 4.3/4.4 yards per play (this spring) with the first and second groups. That's outstanding football. I think we're better up front at creating pressure. And I like the improvement I've seen in our back seven."

All eyes are on a safeties group that didn’t play as well as expected last season.

“Nolan Turner is barely over 100 snaps of good-on-good and no live reps. Zanders has obviously been out and Andrew Mukuba just got hurt,” Venables said. “Jalyn Phillips missed some time. So we've had Joseph Charleston, Ray Thornton, Tyler Venables, and R.J. Mickens and some walk-on guys in scrimmages, so we've been pretty thin there. But we've been working on getting them stronger and more physical and a lot of fundamental stuff, coverage work. They've made a lot of improvement.”

Venables said Mukuba – the heralded freshman out of Texas – will be out until summer workouts.

"Mukuba (arm) will be out 4-6 weeks, he's having surgery this week. He had an excellent spring. An excellent spring,” Venables said. “Love his instincts, poise, very calm. Really good tackler, can really cover. Not real long but he plays big. He's about his business. Just really on point. Great work ethic. Really competitive. We are really thrilled-- when you have that kind of surprise so to speak when he exceeds your expectations of what you hoped, that brings more depth and different things you can do from a package standpoint."

The cornerbacks have also been hit hard by injuries, including Andrew Booth.

"Andrew Booth missed substantial time. Good to get Andrew back out here this week,” Venables said. “We need Booth to become that consistent force for us. He was in-and-out with different issues last season and it was hard to get into a rhythm, gain confidence and momentum. that was hard to do when you're missing practice and game time. He was (ESPN's) "SportsCenter" at times, but other times just unavailable. Certainly not his fault, he didn't want to miss time. But that makes it tough to put together a great year.

"As much as anything, we need him to be consistent with fundamentals and how he thinks and how it relates to the entirety of the defense. You have to really understand your leverage, depth, and where your help is. He's had a good spring and has a chance to be a special player. Needs to have a great summer in order to do that."

Who are the other corners that have stood out?

"I think Nate Wiggins had a really good spring. He's got a long way to go but he's got length, speed, and toughness,” Venables said. “And I think he's led us in interceptions this spring. He needs a lot of refinement, but he's going to have to help us. Wiggins has had the most improvement every day from beginning to end, which you would expect from a freshman. Mario Goodrich missed a little bit of a time, but he took the most snaps of any corner and showed the most versatility and had the most consistency. Sheridan Jones missed a good part as well. He came back the last couple of days and has looked good and consistent.

Fred Davis has had excellent moments this spring. Just looking for them to be consistent. Between Fred, Sheridan, and Andrew, that's a great threesome to go along with Mario. Malcolm Greene took 15 snaps at corner before getting hurt early. We also had Mukuba take about 50 snaps there and graded very well. Goodrich and Mickens have been cross-training at nickel.

"They've all really improved in the areas you want them to, whether it's winning on the ball or winning the releases. We've really focused on winning early because you have to win early if you want a chance in the route.”

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