Venables looking for toughness, chemistry from his defense


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Venables is looking for the best 11 to play (Photo by Mark Crammer)
Venables is looking for the best 11 to play (Photo by Mark Crammer)

Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables doesn’t exactly know what to expect from his unit this season.

But he certainly has the keys down for what he’s focusing on this preseason: physical and mental toughness and chemistry.

“At some spots, I feel better, more sure, more information at some spots,” Venables said Tuesday. “I think defensive tackle, we have more proven players, more guys that have a resume, a few more guys at linebacker than we had a year ago at this time. But after that, other than Cordrea Tankersley in the secondary, there’s a lot to be found out over the course of the next three, four weeks. I think at a few positions, defensive end, potentially at safety, potentially at corner, there’s going to be a growing process.

“We’ve got numbers; we’ve got bodies. When I think starting at defensive end and then in the secondary, generally speaking, what kind of physical and mental toughness that we’re going to have? I don’t know.”

Venables likes the leadership of the defense and pointed to defensive tackles Carlos Watkins and Christian Wilkins, linebacker Ben Boulware and cornerback Cordrea Tankersley as the players who can lead the defense.

Watkins, Boulware and Tankersley are all seniors while Wilkins is a sophomore, but he played 453 snaps last season and had 84 tackles.

“We’ve got a long way to go before we can say we’re a good defense. We’ve got to develop chemistry. I do think we’ve got a solid foundation, I feel great about that,” Venables said. “We have a premier player, or players, at all three levels, starting up front at defensive tackle with Carlos and Christian, (Scott) Pagano and a host of others, at linebacker in Ben Boulware and Cordrea Tankersley in the secondary. Those are only just a few guys. As we showed last year, 10 guys are on point, and one guy wanted to go do his own thing, and it can be a touchdown, and you all look like a bunch of chumps.
“So we need find our best 11, first and foremost, and then develop depth.”

There are plenty of new faces on the defense this season and returners who will be taking on bigger roles. That second group includes defensive ends Austin Bryant, Clelin Ferrell and Richard Yeargin, linebackers Dorian O’Daniel and Kendall Joseph and defensive backs Marcus Edmond, Mark Fields, Jadar Johnson, Ryan Carter, Denzel Johnson, Tanner Muse and Van Smith. And Korrin Wiggins can do a little bit of everything in the secondary and at linebacker.

How those players progress should be pivotal for the defense’s development.

“You feel like we have a chance, but this is a tough game for tough guys, and the great ones, if they possess something, they possess some level of toughness,” Venables said. “And particularly in that secondary, we lost a lot of physically tough guys. We lost some skill. We lost some experience, yes, but I think it comes down to the physical and mental toughness that we’ve got to find out if guys are going to have it or not. We may not know when the first game comes. It might be midseason. We’ve got a lot to work through and to discover and to develop. How are we going to generate a pass rush? I’m not one to believe you just, ‘OK the next man up,’ and you’re going to get the same kind of production. I don’t buy into that jargon. Guys gotta go earn it. You’ve got to develop them. You’ve got to stress them, and sometimes it’s not as good as it was. Sometimes it exceeds your expectations. But generating a pass rush, particularly at defensive end, I think that there’s a lot that we don’t know there yet.”

Venables has similar concerns each season, and he pointed to the 2014 defense as a group that eased his fears during that season.

“What their physical and mental toughness is, I don’t know. You’ve got to earn that through the course of time, and it’s easy to start off strong the first day, first week, first month,” Venables said. “I think we proved that last year. We kind of fizzled out a little bit last year. Sustaining success, sustaining the intensity, respecting the game, respecting your opponent, respecting the process, that sounds really good and easy, and ‘OK, just do X, Y, Z,’ but some guys have the discipline to do it, and some guys don’t.

“We were watching film with our guys last week and looking at some teach tapes, and some of the clips, there’s a good majority of them that we were teaching from that were from the ’14 defense. Last year definitely had some incredible moments, some of the most exciting plays that I’ve ever been a part of, but the beauty of the ’14 team was through the course of, whatever it was, 14 games, 13 games, whatever it was, they had patience and discipline and toughness that you can’t coach.”

Daniel Shirley is the sports editor of The Telegraph in Macon, Ga., and co-host of The Midday Sports Zone on Middle Georgia’s ESPN, 93.1 FM and 99.5 FM. Follow him on Twitter at @DM_Shirley and read his blog at macon.com/peachsports.


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