Clemson’s New Defensive Direction
By BJ Bennett
Follow us at Twitter.com/SouthernPigskin. Become a fan at the SouthernPigskin.com Facebook Page
Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables has brought a new style of defense with him from the midwest. More so, he's brought a new energy and confidence.
Clemson's defense had been anxiously awaiting the arrival of spring practice, and for good reason. After a record-breaking Orange Bowl juicing at the hands of West Virginia to end this past season, a crushing loss where the Tigers allowed 70 points, the start of spring stood as a a chance to officially turn the page. The past few weeks Clemson has had the opportunity to get back on the football field and, more importantly, get back after "it" in helmets and pads. They've done so with a new pep in their step and with new leadership pushing all the right buttons.
After a long-awaited ACC Championship Game triumph over Virginia Tech, a celebrated trip south to Miami quickly turned into one of the most forgettable moments in school history. That night against the Mountaineers has been a a strong source of motivation this off-season, a drive new defensive coordinator Brent Venables hopes to channel from the end of this past year to the finish of this upcoming season. Disappointment has turned into constant fuel for the fire.
Venables comes to Death Valley from Oklahoma as the replacement to veteran Kevin Steele. Venebles spent 13 seasons in Norman, the last eight years as the sole defensive coordinator after sharing duties before. Venables was the co-defensive coordinator of the 2000 team that won the BCS National Championship by blanking the star-studded Florida State offense to the tune of 13-2 in the Orange Bowl. The resume, including a stop at his alma mater Kansas State, is a staggeringly-impressive one.
"We are getting one of the top coordinators in the nation. I appreciate the commitment from the Clemson administration. This hire shows that everyone at Clemson wants us to be the best we can possibly be," explained head coach Dabo Swinney once the hire was made. "Coach Venables has the experience of coaching in four National Championship games. He has had to compete against the best offenses in the nation over a long period of time. His resume speaks for itself, but it is certainly impressive that he has coached in eight BCS Bowls, four National Championship games and been a part of seven Big 12 Conference Championship coaching staffs. He is a great fit for this job."
In addition to bringing years of championship-level experience to the post, Venables has brought a new level of intensity. His style is one predicated on controlled aggression, attacking the opposing offense and thus dictating game tempo and setting the game's tone. Oklahoma has ranked in the top ten nationally in sacks each of the last four years. In 2008, the Sooners ranked fourth in all of college football with 34 gained fumbles and interceptions. The Venables defensive philosophy is one of forcing in-game adjustments, forcing turnovers and downright forcing the issue.
That is a scheme the Tiger defense is currently learning on the fly this spring. The back seven looks to be the strength of a group that must replace linemen Andre Branch (16 tackles for loss), Brandon Thompson and Rennie Moore. Seniors Rashard Hall, Jonathan Meeks, Xavier Brewer, Jonathan Willard, Corico Hawkins and Malliciah Goodman will provide a strong leadership core this fall. Reports have been extremely high on sophomore linebacker Stephone Anthony, a former five-star recruit who had two tackles for loss in the ACC Championship Game a year ago. Swinney and Venables have been especially pleased with his production.
Venables has brought a new style of defense with him from the midwest. More so, he's brought a new energy and confidence. After allowing ten offensive touchdowns in their last game, that influx may prove to be more valuable than any concept or formation. The bottom line: Venables expects excellence and demands a certain attitude and effort from the players he coaches. Clemson defenders are taking a crash course in physicality this spring.
The new defensive coordinator has a clear philosophy and a simple expectation.
"We will win," Venables plainly said when hired earlier in the year. "I have great confidence for all the obvious reasons. Location, players, leadership, passionate fans, the facilities and the eagerness and willingness to work for it; we have all of that. I really feel like the needle is pointed in one direction. I sense that with this group of coaches, they are quality men, they are quality leaders and are experienced at winning and success will follow."
As the Tigers work towards their spring game finale on April 14th, it's Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins and the high-flying offense getting all the attention and acclaim. It's the defense going relatively unmentioned. For now, last January considered, that's a welcome change of pace. Venables came to Clemson with an eye on the future, however, passion and pride on his sleeve. This talented Tiger defense is hungry for a new slate, a chance to rebuild their reputation; their new coordinator has brought that as well.