Venables, players intense even during spring practice
By Scott Adamson
CLEMSON — There are times when Brent Venables’ happiness is apparent — when a smile actually cracks the chiseled face of Clemson’s defensive coordinator and his eyes brighten.
Spring practice, however, is not one of those times.
His business is molding elite bruise crews, and this time of year he’s all business.
And dead serious.
The gratification — if there is any — comes at the end of a real game against a real opponent.
The first half of the Tigers’ spring workouts ended with a scrimmage last Wednesday. By all accounts, the defense shined and, as head coach Dabo Swinney said, “won the day.”
But Venables was hardly celebrating after the 99-play simulated game was done.
He wasn’t upset, but he wasn’t satisfied.
“Every year presents new problems, new issues and new concerns,” Venables said. “Some of it’s good and some of it isn’t so good. Every day is different. We’re teaching guys how to practice, compete and stay humble, and there are a million different things that you’re working on every day, and it’s never good enough.
“Some aspects and schemes are getting better, and some aren’t and probably won’t for a while.”
Venables has clearly established himself as one of the best DCs in college football, and the last three years have shown just how consistently good the Tigers defense has become.
They were tops in the nation in total defense in 2014, tenth a year later and eighth during the national championship campaign which featured a shutout in the College Football Playoff semifinal game against Ohio State.
Each year it seems Venables is tasked with replacing key players, and each year he manages to plug the holes.
Gone from last season are linebacker Ben Boulware, tackle Carlos Watkins and secondary standouts Jadar Johnson and Cordrea Tanklersley.
But there are more than enough players on hand who are ready and willing to pick up the slack
“I love the spring,” rising junior defensive lineman Christian Wilkins said. “It’s really your time to get a lot better and make your jump as a player. I feel like spring is when I made my biggest jump from the end of my freshman year to my sophomore year. I got a lot better, and got into the playbook and picked up every little nuance and just learned as much as I could.
“Plus, you’re not going every day so it’s not as fast. You have time to think about it and walk through things and take it a little slower. So, spring is really big.”
Rising senior cornerback Ryan Carter says spring is also a time for younger players to assert themselves and veterans to take on mentoring roles.
“We have a lot of players who have stepped up,” said Carter, who had 29 tackles a year ago. “Trayvon Mullen especially. He was a younger guy last year and got a couple of snaps, but he’s been doing really well stepping up with the loss of Cordrea. I just try to do my best to take on the leadership role.”
The running theme among the players is that — like Venables — they aren’t satisfied.
“You have to just keep grinding,” Wilkins said. “That’s just the culture here. It doesn’t matter how well we’ve done, you still have to grind. It’s the system we have in place. You just go to work. None of our guys are complacent.”
That attitude and ethic is a reflection of their coordinator. And that’s why they’re more than happy to delay their gratification.
“There’s a lot of time between now and next fall,” Venables said. “There has been progress in some areas and in other areas we have a lot of growing up to do. Some of it’s maturity, but the maturation process is exactly that, a process. So we’re not ready to line up and play against Kent State yet, and I’m talking about lining up and dominating somebody.
“But we’re getting there.”
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