CLEMSON—Clemson Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables joined the Tigers in 2012 following a 2011 season in which Clemson ranked 71st in total defense and 81st in scoring defense.
In his seven seasons with the Tigers, he’s turned the unit into a perennial top-10 finisher.
The Tigers have ranked in the top 10 in the country in total defense in all five seasons of the College Football Playoff era and have ranked among the top 10 in scoring defense in four of those campaigns.
Yet, for all of the success Venables’ defenses have produced in his Clemson tenure, the 2018 unit accomplished a first in school history, leading the nation in scoring defense for the first time by allowing only 13.1 points per game.
Because of his pedigree, when Venables speaks, people listen.
This spring, his voice was needed more than at any time during his tenure with the Tigers because the defense was forced to replace seven starters. But even with the players they lost, Venables’ expectations for his new-look defense is still sky-high.
“I have been (counting the players lost), at least I was going into the spring,” Venables said. “But no man, they're a fun group. They like to practice. They really, they let me coach them hard. My expectation is never higher than theirs and so that makes it easy. It really does. The last group of guys and the guys before them, they've done a terrific job of nourishing the culture that you want at that position.
“And again, the responsibility that comes with it, it's very clear what that vision looks like and one that these guys are just taking and running with. So been super pleased with their commitment and their leadership that they've provided throughout the spring.”
If Venables has been “super pleased” with his new defense through the spring, one thing is certain, they still have a lot of work to do between now and Aug. 29 when the Tigers’ take on the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in their opening game.
“Some days and some players and some positions, it's been more than others, and you know a day or two there is some regression with an individual,” Venables said. “That’s part of, again, the growth. When you take a step back to take three or four steps forward. And again, by and large, I really believe that everybody got a little bit better in different areas.
“We're improved from where we were, whether it's knowledge or fundamentals or big picture understanding, little picture understanding, how to get in a stance. We've got some guys that haven't played football very long and so sometimes it showed.”
If there is one thing that he is looking for in his group heading into the summer workouts — when the players will be on their own with only their teammates to hold them accountable — it is that they simply continue the progress that they need.
“I’m looking for guys ready to run and play with passion, that tackle with passion, tackle with toughness. Know where to line up, put your eyes in the right place, do a great job communicating,” Venables said. “You're going into the summer, you're really feeling good about the progress that you've made. But those are some non-negotiables, getting lined up, communicating, playing physical.
"I think it's a group that cares and knows how to work and have continued to bring a toughness that you got to have at that position and the accountability that goes with that position, to be the, again, the extension of me to the rest of the defense. And they are all a group of guys that value and respect that opportunity and that responsibility.”