Venables pleased with defense this spring, says Kendrick would start at corner

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Venables expects Xavier Thomas to be a top performer Saturday
Venables expects Xavier Thomas to be a top performer Saturday

CLEMSON – Brent Venables was in a good mood following Wednesday’s practice, the last of the spring before Saturday’s spring game.

Once practice was over, Venables spent several minutes talking to 2020 quarterback prospect DJ Uiagalelei and his family before ambling over to meet with the media, just the second time this spring he’s faced questions about his defense.

He was asked about how he feels about his group heading out of the spring, and his face took on a serious cast.

“Terribly disappointed,” Venables said, deadpan.

At that point, Venables smiled and gave his true feelings.

“I was going to give you a dissertation there. No, it's been good. They have worked really hard,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do. We are a long way from being a good defense. We just are. We have some really good parts, but we aren't a good defense yet. We have had a great spring where we have put in hard work every day. I think consistently we've shown up and had a willingness to go to work. It's been the leaders that have come back and that are here, they have done a terrific job of leading and setting the example when it comes to consistency and having a great attitude and competing the right way and helping the younger guys.

“There are a lot of things that give you reason to believe we will continue to make progress and we will continue to improve. We have to improve. We have a long way to go before we play a real game and we need that time to develop every part of our unit.”

Venables was also asked about who he expects to shine during Saturday’s game, and he said, “The defenses” before once again delving into his real feelings.

We are going to see who can get out in front of a big crowd and execute and communicate and play within the scheme and discipline. This will be another opportunity for us to evaluate those things.

“I think the players that have played a lot of football, you have a different level of anticipation,” he said. “Guys like Isaiah Simmons or Tanner Muse, K'Von Wallace, AJ Terrell, Jamie Skalski, Chad Smith, Shaq Smith, Justin Foster, Logan Rudolph, Xavier Thomas, those guys have been out there a little bit more and you have a little bit more data to evaluate them. But I am really excited about all of the youth and the first opportunity for those freshmen who just got there.

“It's been a great spring with a learning curve for that group of guys and a lot of other guys that this is their first chance to prove that they belong, earn their way and compete and fight. There are a number of guys that feel like this is their first opportunity to go after a starting job or be in the solid two-deep heading into summer drills.”

Clemson is having to replace four starters on the defensive line and faces depth issues at defensive tackle, but Venables said he likes what he sees out of the group he has on hand.

“It's a great group of guys. They understand work ethic and where they're at and the work they still have to continue to do. It's not going to happen overnight,” Venables said. “It's a good, mature group of guys that have been both good and bad. But it's been a great spring for them, just because of what they are going against every day. They are not going to see better any particular week going into next year, looking at the schedule.

“They are being strained in every way mentally and physically and learning how to play the game. Just thankful that they are here and that they are getting the quality of reps they are getting and that it will pay off.”

Wide receiver Derion Kendrick was moved to corner early in camp, and Venables said that Kendrick would have earned a starting spot if the season started today.

“I am excited about him. He will play defense and return (punts and kickoffs). He had a great spring. He obviously wasn't there (at corner) the whole time, but when that decision was made, he took off,’ Venables said. “Very natural, great instincts, tough, competitive, and incredible transitional movement. It's not really hard for the really good ones. It comes very easy to him. If you said name the starters today and you're picking two, he's one of the two starters today.

“I am not the head coach, but if you're asking my vote, we will take him. He will play a lot and be a big part of what we do. That is not an indictment on the other guys. He played defensive back in high school and has a natural football IQ, and he is a very confident guy, and it shows in how he plays. He is a quick learner and very coachable. It was an easy transition because he is coachable and will take a butt-chewing and he responds. I am really excited about him.”

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