Five questions for Brent Venables

Brent Venables will inherit a lot of young talent when he arrives to Clemson for his first season as defensive coordinator.

There are plenty of questions he'll have to answer by the time Clemson opens next September against Auburn in the Georgia Dome.

Venables will start working on answers to the questions when spring practice opens in March.

Here's an early look:

1. What will happen with Clemson's defensive line?
All of the starters from the 2010 Clemson defensive will be in the NFL by the time Venables coaches his first game at Clemson. Assuming Brandon Thompson and Andre Branch go within the first two rounds of the draft later this spring, all of the starters from that unit would have been drafted within the first two rounds.

Also gone are guys like Miguel Chavis, Rennie Moore and Kourtnei Brown. That's seven departures over two years, the majority of which will also be in the NFL.

And, of course, all of that turnover makes for an extremely young defensive line.

Assuming Tyler Shatley sticks around at defensive tackle, he and Malliciah Goodman will be the most experienced defensive linemen. The rest of the defensive line will be freshmen and sophomores.

Last season, Corey Crawford saw 252 snaps at defensive end while DeShawn Williams finished with 138 at tackle. Tackles Tavaris Barnes and Grady Jarrett played 73 and 61 snaps, respectively. Also at tackle, Josh Watson logged 21 and Tra Thomas played eight. All were freshmen.

Venables will add talented prospects in tackle Carlos Watkins and ends Shaquille Lawson and Martin Aiken; but it will make an already young defensive line that much younger.



2. Will Venables go young or stay old at linebacker?
Unlike the defensive line, there's plenty of returning experience at linebacker. Senior Corico Hawkins, redshirt senior Jonathan Willard and redshirt junior Quandon Christian spent last season listed as the starters on the depth chart.

Hawkins, who started 11 games at middle linebacker, finished last season fourth on the team in tackles with 76 and first among linebackers with 697 snaps. Willard and Christian played 635 and 411 snaps, respectively. Spencer Shuey, also an upperclassman, played 48 snaps.

Of the highly touted 2011 linebacker class, Stephone Anthony played the most [292 snaps]. Tony Steward was second with 36, but he suffered a torn ACL midway through the season. Lateek Townsend logged three snaps. Most of his impact was felt on special teams by recording 16 tackles.

The other 2011 freshman linebackers, B.J. Goodson and Colton Walls, took redshirts.

Unlike Steele's first two seasons at Clemson, Venables will have plenty of options to choose from at linebacker in 2012.



3. Can the secondary forget about 2011?

West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith threw for 401 yards and six touchdowns against Clemson in the Orange Bowl.

Even outside the Orange Bowl, it wasn't a great season for the Clemson secondary. Before the game, the Tigers ranked 55th in pass efficiency defense with a rating of 127.41 and 35th in pass defense with an average of 202.92 yards allowed.

Clemson allowed several big-time passing performances in 2011.

Troy threw for 258 yards, Florida State had 336, North Carolina racked up 316 and N.C. State went for 253. Those four teams combined to throw nine touchdowns and four interceptions against the Tigers.

The only defensive back who won't be back for the Tigers in 2012 is cornerback Coty Sensabaugh. And there's plenty of help on the way with the 2012 class.



4. How about dual-threat quarterbacks?

The biggest knock on Kevin Steele over the last three years was the inability of Clemson defenses to slow down running quarterbacks.

It was a recurring issue, whether it was Conner Shaw, Tevin Washington or C.J. Brown in 2011; Cam Newton and E.J. Manuel a year earlier or Joshua Nesbitt (twice) and Andy Dalton in 2009.

Maybe it was press-man coverage in the secondary. Maybe it was the aggressive blitzing. Maybe it was a combination of scheme, players and other factors.

Whatever it was, Clemson fans certainly want it to stop.



5. Will there be any staff chages?

It's probably safe to assume that Venables spent plenty of time last weekend getting to know Dan Brooks, Charlie Harbison and Marion Hobby.

And it's probably safe to assume Dabo Swinney asked for input from Brooks, Harbison and Hobby as he began the search for Steele's replacement.

Taking the previous assumptions into consideration, it's probably safe to assume there's a mutual respect between Venables and the defensive assistants already on staff. But it's worth asking.

Will any changes be made?

Brooks' track record with defensive tackles speaks for itself. Both Harbison and Hobby have experience as defensive coordinators. And all three have made serious inroads with 2012 recruits.


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