Venables says defensive depth chart still a mystery


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Venables is looking for the best 11 to play
Venables is looking for the best 11 to play

CLEMSON – Brent Venables isn’t ready to name starters with just three days of camp in the books.

Clemson’s defensive coordinator fielded questions for almost 20 minutes following Thursday’s practice, and many of the questions surrounded the fact that he has to replace seven starters. With those questions come follow-up questions about the depth chart, and Venables said it’s too early to tell who will fit in at what spot.

“No, not yet. Maybe in a week. Today was just our third day,” Venables said. “But it’s been good through the first three days with some good give and take, but no, not yet.”

One of the bigger questions concerns defensive end, where the Tigers have to replace the output of Shaq Lawson and Kevin Dodd. The duo combined for 24 ½ sacks and 49 tackles for loss. Projected starters are Austin Bryant and Clelin Ferrell, but Chris Register, Richard Yeargin and Xavier Kelly will all vie for playing time.

So far in camp, however, Venables is making sure each player gets plenty of chances to shine.

“It’s really not a rotation,” Venables said of the ends. “It’s more just getting them in there, getting them equal reps and figuring it out. But they’ve looked good. I’m pleased. They’ve added weight and strength, and it shows up in their functionality. Good athletes coming off the ball. It’s going to be a good group of guys.”

The group just needs to gain experience.

“I think they can hold their own,” Venables said. “They’ve just got to gain their experience there, but I like them. Those other guys were veterans who had seen and played more ball, but these guys are tough and they’re long and their strong and can run. So, we’ve got a good foundation there. We’re not going to get knocked off the ball there.”

Other notes

The secondary

“Through three days, it’s been pretty solid. Two-deep of some guys who’ve got some speed and pretty good size. We’re just kind of mixing and matching packages and people right now.”

Xavier Kelly and Trayvon Mullen

“They’re physically mature, and now we’ve just got to get their brains caught up to their bodies. That’ll come. Trayvon has played corner his whole life and doesn’t get real overwhelmed, and Xavier has a lot to learn, but he has a high motor and can run. He had a little bit of base knowledge to what we do coming in.”

Freshman safety Isaiah Simmons

“He’s a big, long-bodied guy that can run. He’s just working on technique and working on what to do so we can get him to play sure of himself. He’s got a good foundation, so moving forward we’ll see how he continues to progress and whether or not he hits that wall at some point in time.”

Freshman linebackers Shaq Smith and Tre Lamar

“Both are improved. Both more knowledgeable. Both surer of themselves. I think Shaq has improved in his technique as much as anything, and Tre’s confidence shows up.”

Freshman defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence

"Man, he is such a wonderful, young guy that likes to practice, likes to be coached hard, and never gets his lip stuck out. He knows how to compete. He's very talented, ultra-talented in both his technique and his toughness and then his skill and mobility. He's pretty special.

"Just a real humble, hard working tough (guy). He blocked a field goal there right at the end (of practice) with the game on the line. It still went through, but he blocked it.

"He has really fit in well. He's helped people around him get better. We got a great group. Up to this point, that front four and all those guys that are involved there are selfless, tough, hardworking, and coachable. It's fun."

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