Venables talks defense

by - Senior Writer -

CLEMSON – Brent Venables admitted Wednesday that he isn’t worried about the depth chart, saying that halfway through spring practice – and with an entire summer and fall practice to go – it’s too early to worry about who is playing where.

Instead, Clemson’s new defensive coordinator said he is working on getting his defensive players good at the little things.

He was asked if he could compare the group of linebackers he has now to the group he had at Oklahoma, and he shook his head no.

“I don’t want to compare. It’s very good. I really like their attitude,” Venables said after Wednesday’s practice. “There’s a good enough group that has played that has good experience and it’s a group that has good football intelligence. We are just working on little things right now trying to develop guys, develop a two-deep, find out what guys can do and what their strengths are, and what they need to work on. Same thing that is a reflection of a lot of the defensive guys- they have a great attitude and a hunger and a willingness to work and want to get better.”

He said Wednesday’s practice was another good effort in what he terms a long process.

“Good effort. Staying focused. Guys are hungry and a lot of guys feel like they have a lot to prove,” he said. “They have a willingness to work. They just have to stay the course, pay attention and invest every day. I haven’t seen a lot of regression- mentally or physically- which is good. They really competed hard today which was good to see.

“We are mixing and matching with different packages. Still trying to massage it. The good thing is that I don’t feel empty-handed. There’s enough guys with enough different skill sets that can complement each other well and give us the things we need to be successful.”

Venables said he was still working on getting his defense installed, but said he didn’t have an exact number on how much had been implemented.

“I don’t have a percentage, but not a whole lot,” he said. “We have a good foundation in and a foundation that you can win with. All of those schemes aren’t any good if you don’t have attitude, toughness, intelligence, guys playing with effort and the fundamentals. We are trying to get all of those things to become second nature and develop that type of mindset and that culture, and that daily and weekly investment that it takes. We are trying to get them to invest in the process of how you play well individually and collectively. That’s what’s most important.”

One of his biggest challenges has been teaching both players and coaches a new defense.

“It’s obviously different, because you’re having to coach coaches and the older guys, so everybody’s young that way,” he said. “It forces me, individually, to kind of get out of my comfort zone. That’s good and healthy for me, too, to take myself out if it and put everybody else in, to get in their shoes and kind of see it from their perspective. So it’s been very healthy for me, to really teach it in its purest form, in infant stages. The emphasis, more than anything, is to get our guys technically and fundamentally sound, to play physical. The schemes will come, at some point.”

One of the biggest concerns heading into the spring was the dearth of experience at the defensive tackle spots, but Venables said he was more concerned with the depth at defensive end. He said the players at defensive tackle have actually been a pleasant surprise.

“I don’t know if we have any Doberman Pinschers inside, but I think we’ve got some guys inside with some fight, with some toughness,” he said. “It’s coming along. It’s developing. Game-ready yet? I don’t know. We’ll see. There are guys that you feel like you can definitely win with, even though we lost some experience inside. Defensive end is where I’m a little bit more concerned, to be honest. We’ve got some guys with some talent and ability, just not very deep there. I know we’re not deep on experience inside, but I think we have a couple more players, depth-wise. The development with some down the line guys has got to really come along. At defensive end, we’re really thin there.”

He also admitted on Wednesday that he has already been looking at some of Clemson’s 2012 opponents.

“There’s good diversity in our conference. Obviously, look at Auburn,” he said. “They’ve got great talent. They’re two years removed from a national championship. They’ve got a lot of guys who are hungry and a bunch of guys who are coming back from a year ago. You look at Florida State, we got them early. They’ve got most of their team back. I have some familiarity. Some of their best players were freshmen that played at the end of the year. There are some we didn’t face at Oklahoma, especially the skill set and some linemen.

“You look at Georgia Tech and the things that they do, it’s so different than everybody else. Obviously, Virginia Tech, that program and the history that they have in this conference. It’s pretty special. There’s a change at North Carolina and what they’re going to do, philosophically. They’ve always got good players. We lost to N.C. State. Heck of a game against Maryland, a dog fight. Wake Forest was a heck of a game as well. There’s no real easy ones as you look at the schedule. More importantly than anything else, the real focus has been on us. We’ve got to get us taken care of first and foremost, see if we can get to that first game.”

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