Plenty of room for improvement

Brent Venables

CLEMSON - Asked what his Clemson defense can improve on, Brent Venables had a quick answer Tuesday.

"Yeah," Venables said. "Everything."

The Tigers' second-year defensive coordinator has an excellent point.

While Clemson's defense has shown significant flashes towards building on 2012's solid finish through two games, Venables knows it still must make big strides to be the championship-level front he wants.

"(There are) depth issues," he said. "We're going to be stressed in a lot of different ways with a lot of good quarterbacks, good offenses we're going to see. So we've got to improve in a lot of areas.

"Our pressure's got to improve, our coverage has got to improve – both in our underneath and back end behind – got to continue to improve, disguise, and communication on the field. Pad level across the board. Lot of things we can improve at. Eliminating big-play touchdowns. People are going to get some big plays but we've got to get guys on the ground."

Through two games, Clemson has allowed three touchdowns of 50-plus yards – Georgia tailback Todd Gurley's 75-yard run, and S.C. State receiver Tyler McDonald's 51 and 63-yard touchdown catches.

That said, the Tigers have also forced five turnovers. Saturday, cornerbacks Martin Jenkins and Darius Robinson combined to give Clemson two interception returns for touchdowns in a single game for the first time in program history.

Overall, Venables seemed pleased with his team's effort in the 52-13 win.

"I was pleased with our corners," he said. "I thought they played well, had good positioning, were physical. That was a very encouraging couple of pick-sixes. That's a couple of guys being sure of themselves and understanding what they'd do under those circumstances and blocking people, finding someone to get in the way of. Really physical in the run game. It's a team that forces you to play with a great deal of discipline with a variety of formations and motions and shifts, and a lot of gap exchange responsibility. I thought our guys for the most part handled that very well.

"I thought South Carolina State is well-coached up front. I thought they've got a good-looking football team, and thought their backs really ran downhill very hard, and it kind of stresses you a little bit structurally. I thought our guys for the most part handled their physicality and the precision that's required in consistently stopping them – they're a very persistent team, as you all know. I thought our guys were very pleased with the discipline they showed."


Darius Robinson was one of two Clemson cornerbacks with a pick-6 against S.C. State.
Some more thoughts from Venables on his defense's effort after 2 games:

On using so many young players and the overall effort vs. S.C. State:
"I thought it was a solid performance. Again, anytime you're playing 83 guys, you're bound to have some things you need to improve at. I liked how hard our guys played, I thought they competed. Had great focus, great energy, were physical. All the guys that got out there, from the first-team guys to the third and fourth-team guys as well. Really pleased with the effort and focus as much as anything. I thought we played well as a result."

On how an improved front seven has helped his defense as a whole:
"The biggest thing is you have a lot more flexibility with the things you can do, whether you want to change a front or you're moving guys, both the run and play-action pressures, those opportunities are there, without worrying about how we're going to fit it and adjust it, things of that nature. The front seven, the cohesion that's there, the depth that's there, that's most pleasing. Guys are playing with depth and being physical in our first two games, and that's good."

On backup safeties Jadar Johnson and Jayron Kearse:
"They're not as far along as you want, but not that far away, either. Try to overload them, give them what they can handle. I thought they came in and did pretty well. We didn't get (Bashaud) Breeland reps at safety, but there's no need for him to expose himself to injury. He knows what to do, he's looked good in practice, he knows what to do. Those guys are improving, and at some point this season that depth is going to be tested."

On Robinson and Jenkins' pick-sixes:
"I think it shows we've got some guys with good ball skill, awareness, know what to do with the football when they get it. Guys being sure of themselves, playing in an aggressive manner. Pressure up front caused one of those, Quandon (Christian) does a really nice job, batting a little pop pass that D-Rob got on his."

On what an ‘attack mentality' and turnovers do to opposing offenses:
"I think it makes a huge difference in a game. I don't know the measuring stick on it, outside of when you're disruptive that way you can have a dramatic effect on the game.

"You get an offense out of the flow, score points. When you combine that with the style of offense we have it's a pretty solid recipe. It's hard to maintain. It doesn't just happen. Pick-sixes don't fall out of the tree. That said, I'd hope that the turnovers and aggressive mentality are a byproduct of guys knowing what they're doing and guys being in the right position, guys playing in an aggressive manner."

On starting safeties Travis Blanks and Robert Smith:
"Pretty solid, consistent and always looking to get better. There's nobody who's played a perfect two games. There were things that were good, things that were not so good. Things we've got to get corrected. Those two guys are guys who take it personally and are very prideful guys who work hard at their craft. Any issues that have been there from a negative standpoint in the first two games, they'll be the first in line to get them corrected."

On how playing so many players against a team like S.C. State can help:
"Good for a lot of guys, on the stat sheet probably not good for (starters), but so what. "In the big picture that helps our football team, in the locker room helps with morale, and you see a lot of people who play these FCS team, they're playing their starters through a solid three quarters. Whether they're keeping their people out of the end zone or having solid stats, that's reflective on who's been out on the field."

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