Starting Over: Venables says even experienced players have to prove themselves


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Venables talks to the media after Friday's practice
Venables talks to the media after Friday's practice

CLEMSON – For the first time in three years, Brent Venables returns the majority of his defense, but despite the returning experience it’s still a new year and a new team.

The Tigers return seven of 11 starters and even more who played crucial roles in Clemson’s National Championship run, but Venables bristled Friday when he was asked what returning so many experienced players meant for the defense.

“Ask me in about five months. You always have to start over, so it doesn't matter. Guys come back, and they have to be focused," Venables said after Clemson's second spring practice. "They have to work hard. They've got to start over in regards to the fundamentals and competing and earning their positions, the chemistry, the leadership and all of those things. The commitment level was really good last year, and we'll see if it's the same, if not better this year. It needs to be if it's going to have any chance of being as good or improved."

Venables isn’t so much worried about replacing personnel, but the few who are missing from last year’s team were the leaders that everyone looked to.

"Everything, you start over. Who're your leaders? Building depth, competing to replace really good players and really good leaders,” Venables said. “Ben (Boulware) and Carlos (Watkins) and Jadar (Johnson) and Cordrea (Tankersley). That four-headed horsemen plus (Scott) Pagano are some really good players and some tough guys and really great leaders. You've got to replace them, but you have to earn that, too, and it takes time to judge a guy and rate a guy, it takes time."

Not only will Venables be breaking in new leadership, but he also has a new coach on his staff in defensive line coach Todd Bates.

"Well, there's no comparing any of those guys. I'm not really concerned with comparing,” he said of Bates. “Todd's a smart guy and has got good experience for being a young coach. As a former defensive lineman, he gets it and understands. He understands the game inside and how to be violent and fast with your feet. He's a good technician, a good teacher, understands young people and has got a lot of toughness to him. Good energy and he's been really good."

Mickey Conn – who spent last season as a defensive analyst – also comes on the staff as the safeties coach.

"I think so. Same thing. Mickey has a wealth of experience as a former defensive back,” he said of Conn. “We're not reinventing the wheel. Quarters is quarters, three deep is three deep, man is man, so he's a very good teacher and understands the game and the big picture. He understands how to motivate them and how to discipline them and keep them engaged and all those good things. Picking up right where he left off at Grayson."

Other notes

Is there anyone who has a lead at cornerback?

"Talking about a lead, I'd say that Ryan Carter was terrific last year in a variety of roles that we used him. Had a very good year and was good in winter conditioning, short-lived, but we think he can go again and we're hopeful that he'll be ready to play how he did a year ago, he was really good. We think we've got some really good players there, Mark Fields, Trayvon (Mullen), K'Von (Wallace). I really should start it with Marcus Edmond who made some incredible plays last year and a great leader and worker. He's quite and unassuming but super consistent. K'Von Wallace is playing over there as well."

The battle at safety

"Good. We're looking at Van (Smith) at strong and free. He played primarily at free a year ago, and Tanner (Muse) and Denzel (Johnson) and Korrin Wiggins is back and healthy, Isaiah Simmons, Nolan Turner. We've got a good group there."

Xavier Kelly

"He's going to have his chance. We've got 13 practices left, so it's important that he takes a step forward and then going into the summer and fall camp. Christian will still be both inside and outside still but when he does go inside it gives guys like Xavier and Richard Yeargin a chance to come out and establish himself, Austin Bryant. I'm anxious to watch those guys battle it out, Chris Register as well."

Baylon Spector and Logan Rudolph

"He's (Spector) been at our strong side, and he's done well. He gets football and was able to line up both today and yesterday, so has Logan Rudolph. They're smart guys and have worked really hard to at least get lined up. Their technique, they're understanding at the position is really good, neither one of them had been a linebacker. They're both athletic and know how to use their hands. Tough, athletic and smart. Not really overwhelmed to get lined up out there and they're both physically strong guys too."

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