Venables' simpler scheme frees linebackers up to make plays

by - Senior Writer -

CLEMSON – If you are a fan of watching linebackers play the game at a high level, you expect to see your favorite players get in the middle of the offense and “mess up stuff.”

That “mess up stuff” mentality has been missing from Clemson football over the past few seasons as the linebackers have struggled with former defensive coordinator Kevin SteeleKevin Steele
Defensive Coordinator/Linebackers
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’s scheme, but that ability might be back, according to linebackers Tig Willard and Corico HawkinsCorico Hawkins
Jr. Linebacker
#42 5-11, 230
Milledgeville, GA

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Hawkins, a senior who has moved from the middle or MIKE linebacker spot to the WILL or weakside linebacker spot this spring, said coming in as a freshman and trying to learn Steele’s scheme was a wake-up call.

“I was a freshman, and I was like, ‘What in the world?” Hawkins said Wednesday. “Coming from a high school defense where you run one call, one coverage, and it was like, ‘Go, Corico, go,’ or ‘Go, Johnny, go.’ Coming into coach Steele’s scheme, it was like, ‘Oh my goodness.’ I learned it through repetition and study, but it was hard.”

Too many times over the last few seasons, Clemson fans have seen Tiger defenders running around before the ball is snapped, arms waving and fingers pointing, only to be caught out of position as the ball is snapped.

The questions were simple: Is the scheme too complicated? Is too much thinking hampering players’ ability to play the game?

Rising senior Tig Willard – who is battling Hawkins for the starting spot at WILL – said Wednesday that players were confused a good bit of the time, some of it due to the fact that different players had different calls they were supposed to follow.

“Sometimes (we were),” Willard said. “Mainly it was off communication, getting the whole call communicated to everyone. Our eyes were on the offense, looking back, looking at the coach, looking here, and looking there. Now we are just making one call for everybody.”
Hawkins said that makes life simpler for the linebackers, who now can concentrate on going after the football.

“There’s not a lot of stuff to do pre-snap,” Hawkins said. “It’s either ‘Left, left, left’ or ‘Right, right, right.’ Those are the only calls you make, as opposed to (Steele’s scheme), where it’s an NFL scheme and style of defense.”

I asked Willard to sit down and explain to me exactly what was better about the new scheme – at least in his mind – and he said it was the fact that players have a narrower area of responsibility.

“I know in the running game I have this gap,” Willard said. “In the past, depending on the personnel or the formation, I might have different gaps I was supposed to cover. Now I know that when the ball is snapped, if it’s a run, I have this gap. If it’s a pass, I go here. It sounds simple, but it’s just based on the formation. Once you see the formation, you know which gap is yours or what pass route you have to cover.”

Hawkins agreed with Willard’s explanation.

“This is my key, my read,” Hawkins said. “When the ball turns over, go. Drop back in coverage, do my thing. Once the ball turns over, I do my thing. As opposed to, ‘I’ve got to think about this and this, it’s okay, this is what I’ve got, line here, line there, go.’”

And that allows the linebackers to do what they do best.

“That is allowing the linebackers to go downhill,” Willard said. “And just mess up stuff.”
Hawkins said the linebackers are now free to “pin your ears back and just go.”

Both linebackers agreed that Venables is an excellent teacher of the game.

“Coach Venables is one of the best teachers I have ever had, whether it is on the field or in the meeting room,” Hawkins said. “He is just like a teacher, the best teacher you ever had in high school, elementary school or middle school. He teaches the ins and outs, and finds ways to make it clear to you. He takes it to the max teaching you.”

Willard said Venables leaves no stone unturned.

“He teaches on everything, Head, hands, footwork,” Willard said. “He teaches the right steps, the right way to drop back in alignment, staying square, just all kinds of different things. In film study, he is also telling you how to be better. In the film room, everybody is taking notes. It’s just like class.”

Hopefully, it’s a class that ends with pupils getting to go outside and “mess up stuff.”

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