Venables looking for "Division I players" in the secondary

by - Senior Writer -
Venables says he likes all the talent this season in the secondary.
Venables says he likes all the talent this season in the secondary.

Five weeks from today, the Clemson Tigers will open the 2013 football season against the Georgia Bulldogs on national television, and all eyes will be on quarterback Tajh Boyd Tajh Boyd
RS Sr. Quarterback
#10 6-1, 225
Hampton, VA

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, wide receiver Sammy Watkins Sammy Watkins
Jr. Wide Receiver
#2 6-1, 205
Fort Myers, FL

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and a talented front seven on defense.

The game might be won or lost, however, on how well Clemson’s much-maligned secondary plays against Bulldog quarterback Aaron Murray and the wealth of playmakers at his disposal.

Defensive coordinator Brent VenablesBrent Venables
Defensive Coordinator / Linebackers
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lost three starters from last year’s team that logged over 700 snaps each in 2012 in Xavier BrewerXavier Brewer
Gr. Defensive Back
#9 5-11, 190
Jacksonville, FL

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, Rashard HallRashard Hall
#31 6-2, 210
St. Augustine, FL

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and Jonathan MeeksJonathan Meeks
#5 6-1, 210
Rock Hill, SC

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, but recruited eight defensive backs in the 2013 recruiting cycle, including two players that were rated as Top 100 players nationally in 5-star corner MacKensie AlexanderMacKensie Alexander
Fr. Defensive Back
# 5-11, 175
Immokalee, FL

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and 4-star safety Jayron KearseJayron Kearse
Fr. Safety
# 6-4, 205
Fort Myers, FL

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Despite the turnover and all of the new faces, however, Venables likes what he has to work with this season because of all of the talent on the roster.

“I’m really excited. I like what we have,” Venables said recently. “A year ago, I was a little uncertain – even in the spring, we were an incomplete group of players competing. To a certain degree, it stunted the growth. So what, we dealt with this. There’s an influx of talent that will push and motivate guys. We have returning experience and returning health.”

A healthy Martin JenkinsMartin Jenkins
#14 5-10, 180
Roswell, GA

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– he missed the 2012 season after hernia surgery – is a fierce tackler who can play corner or the nickel spot, and he will battle for one of the corner spots. Veterans Darius RobinsonDarius Robinson
#21 5-10, 175
College Park, GA

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, Garry PetersGarry Peters
RS Jr. Defensive Back
#26 6-0, 195
Conyers, GA

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and Bashaud BreelandBashaud Breeland
RS Jr. Cornerback
#17 6-0, 195
Allendale, SC

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all started at times last season, but they all battled injuries and missed their share of time as well.

Breeland is the most experienced of the group, logging 1,012 snaps during his career, while Robinson has over 700 snaps and Peters 522 career snaps. All have had their highlight moments – Peter’s big play vs. Boston College and Breeland’s big interception at Maryland two years ago – and Venables said he is pulling for the veterans to win the starting jobs.

“I hope they beat out all of those freshman,” he said. “I do think we have a talented group of guys that may help us.”

Travis BlanksTravis Blanks
So. Defensive Back
#11 6-1, 190
Tallahassee, FL

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will move from the nickel/SAM spot he played last season to his more natural safety spot, while Robert SmithRobert Smith
Jr. Safety
#27 5-11, 210
St. George, SC

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will play at the other safety spot. Blanks started eight games and played 563 snaps at nickel, breaking up seven passes with one interception, while Smith is less experienced with 104 career snaps.

Both will be new starters at the anchor spots of the secondary, but Venables said he trusts them.

“At safety, we don’t have one guy that’s ever started at safety in a game on our entire roster,” he said. “That’s scary, but again, I feel good because of the people that are going to show up come game time. That’s a group of young men that I trust. That stand for what’s right. That are selfless in attitude and have toughness.”

“Robert’s played. He’s been in big games at critical times. Travis has been as well. He had great success as a true freshman as a starter at our nickel position. He’s a guy that’s been invested every single day. Knowledge is very powerful and he gets it.”

The secondary finished 71st nationally in pass defense and 62nd nationally in pass defense last season, but Venables said he isn’t looking for players to be super stars – he just needs them to play like players who deserve a scholarship at this level.

“It’s consistency, nobody has to be Superman. Just play like a Division I player plays,” he said. “Compete like a division one player competes and prepare like a division one player prepares. Invest in your positioning and your career. Make an investment and show some maturity.”

What kind of consistency is Venables looking for?

“Do the little things the right way and do it every snap,” he said. “You don’t have to be Deion Sanders. Be competitive and be tough and tackle guys. Do it on a consistent level and you don’t have to plug all these leaks.”

Will the leaks be plugged? August 31st will provide the early test.

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