How is your transition going?
Venables: Everybody has been incredibly helpful. It couldn't have been any better, from the support within the Clemson football family and the university, the players and within the state. It's good for my entire family. I'm not going to sit here and act like everything is roses. It's hard. Once you get settled, the more you realize how hard it is and how challenging it is. I say that in a very happy way. You start to realize what you left and what's in front of you. It's both exciting and tough. When you're emotionally invested, and as physically invested as I was in Norman, as much as my family was, you realize a lot of the sacrifice was made from them, to pick up and have a willingness to come out here. It gives me more appreciation for my wife and children.
Can you talk about your style approach? What kind of a defense are we going to see?
Venables: I'd like to say, first, I'm just one person. There's so many, in any successful organization [or] business, football team, it's a lot more than about just one person. It takes a collective group effort, a willingness for everyone to have each other's back and have one, collective, common goal and pull in the same direction. That is a difficult task in itself. The coaches have to start it. It's our responsibility to put our guys in the right spots. Then, it's the players' responsibility to invest in the success that we all want to have. Without that investment, that's hard. There's a real commitment and a real sacrifice.
As I talk, I'm always talking about to be an elite team, to be a top-five team, to have a chance to win a national championship. From that standpoint, there's got to be a real investment. It's an investment from -- I'm not naïve enough to believe -- it's the GA's, the secretaries, the offensive coaches, it's all of us together. When any one of those inter-changing parts drops the ball, we all suffer.
I, hopefully, can bring some experience. I'm very passionate. I demand great attention to detail and to play with both a mental and a physical toughness. Those are things that I demand. I think those all take place before you ever snap the ball, to have that type of a mindset. I want our guys to have great accountability to one another, to themselves and to have ownership in what we're doing.
We'll have an aggressive approach, but I want our guys to be known to be physical. There's no substitute to being physical. That will never change. That's the environment that I've been brought up in -- the philosophy that I've been brought up in. it's something that I believe, wholeheartedly in -- technique, fundamentals, just being consistent. I think any successful program or business, one common trait is there is a level of consistency.
Venables models his coaching style after Bill Snyder.
The things that we do and the things we emphasize and the things that we incorporate, will be because we believe it gives us the best opportunity to win as a football team. I'm going to strongly encourage our guys to never be influenced, in their approach to the game or commitment to Clemson, to be influenced by anything other than the Clemson football family. That's how I am as a coach. The decisions, you can't ever make decisions because you're afraid to be criticized. I strongly believe that.
As we continue to evaluate our guys from where they were, to where they are now, to where they are in camp. We'll make decisions accordingly. There's so many things that we've got to continue to get better at. We've got to continue to develop depth and develop play-makers. We'll find out who the play-makers are. I think that process will continue to evolve in the course of the season. I don't know what these guys' mindset is going to be, what their body language is going to be. They say there's a willingness to accept responsibility for success and failure. We'll see. Whether it's a fourth quarter opportunity and we're down in the situation. When we're faced with adversity, I'm going to start to find out who our guys really are. That's part of the continual process of developing a team, an identity and a mindset.
The best teams that I've been associated with are player-driven, in regards to leadership, in regards to a willingness to work and have sacrifice, and to call guys out. One of the most encouraging things coming out of the spring was their overall willingness to work, and their overall willingness to learn. It may not be to the exact level yet to what I want and expect, but they're putting forth the effort. That will continue to improve along the way. There's been no resistance that way. I want our guys to understand what discipline means. I want our guys to understand what being responsible within the confines of the defense is, and, again, playing in a relentless manner.
Talent-wise are the pieces here, to get to where you want to go?
Venables: We've got things we've got to get better at, to improve upon. I believe in our guys. I believe in some guys up front. We may not have great depth. Some guys are really going to get tested in ways that I have not seen them get tested in yet. That's storm is coming. We've been preaching that and harping that. I'm not one to believe you run in a bunch of guys in, to keep guys "fresh." Your best players should play, and play the majority of snaps. You don't inherit the right to play. You earn the right to play. You earn it every day, and the next day you go back and earn it again.
I'm a firm believer in rewarding the work that's involved, not rewarding potential. You reward performance. That's my job. I get evaluated every day on my performance. I'm not going to expect anything different from our coaches or our players.
Stephone Anthony enters the fall as the starter at middle linebacker.
Venables: He's really hungry to be a great player. He's very coachable. He brings high energy every day. He's talented. I knew that, because I watched him in high school, actually talked to him. [Oklahoma] might have been his first offer, as a junior. What a quality person and individual he is. He's got a lot to him. He's an achievement-oriented young guy. He cares about what you think. He cares about having his name on it. He cares about not letting his teammates down. He's got a lot of the traits and intangibles that you want, not just in all your players, but particularly in your great leaders and figureheads of your program, certainly what you want your starting middle linebacker to have. He's not there, but he works every day. He's locked in, pays attention and is hard on himself.
Do you want your defense to take your personality?
Venables: Yeah, as far as my expectations, as far as my intensity, as far as my passion, as far as my attention to detail, as far as my commitment to success and commitment to winning. No question, I expect that, and that's hard. That's really hard. That's why there are only so many first-team guys. There's 11 of them. I think we can find 11. You want guys who love. You want guys who are committed to it. You want guys who are humble, coachable, tough-minded and are consistent. The best players, sometimes they're not an All-American, but sometimes the best players I've been around are guys that are the model of consistency. They show up every day, have a great attitude, a tough attitude. They give you a great effort. They give you the same effort. If there's an area of weakness, you can help coach around that…they're not drama queens. They don't have an inherit right to self-indulgement, which society is kind of in today. Yeah. I actually want guys to. They don't have to be just like me, but they need to follow that lead.
Do you have a better sense of where Tony Steward will play this fall?
Venables: I don't. I really don't. I haven't engaged enough with him. I was really pleased with, what I felt, was strong engagement in our meetings. But I couldn't dedicate the whole meeting to what he knew or what he would take. I needed to know what the guys who were going to line up and practice could do. Me coming in, everybody's brand new, so I'm teaching all the coaches, too. That's more challenging than I probably initially thought.
My point is that's coming here in the next few weeks. I haven't worked with him, athletically, to see what he can do. I did watch his high school tape. I saw he could run straight ahead, very explosive, very fast. I really liked his personality. I'm big into personalities and what they are as people, as much as anything.
I've coached some dirtbags -- don't get me wrong -- that were great players. I love a dirtbag on the offensive line, tough guys that want to kick our butts, fight us every day. I like that.
At the end of the day, in regards to Tony, I'm excited to see what he can do. I hope that he makes some decisions really hard for defensive coaches on what we're going to do with our personnel. That's the mindset that he knows he's got an opportunity to really make an impact on a group that returns some experience, but nobody who shows any level of consistency to brag about.
Venables plans to involve Lateek Townsend in the defense this season.
Venables: I love what he brings. He likes to play. Football is his sanctuary, practice is his sanctuary. I saw him improve as much as anybody in the spring, as far as his foundation. Fundamental and technique, he's got a ways to go still. The first seven or eight practices were pretty stagnant. I don't know what it was, but I slowly started to see a little improvement every day. A lot of it is to be encouraging and nourishing to him. He started to flourish. That being said, he's explosive, can run, loves contact. He's a contact player…he doesn't have experience, doesn't really understand all the nuances of the game yet, all the intricacies of the defense yet, but I love his willingness to be aggressive and be in attack mode. We need to try and find a place for him. We'll work on that when we get started.
How do you feel about your depth at defensive end? What about Tavaris Barnes moving there?
Venables: I don't feel very good about it, for obvious reasons…I think he's a viable option.
Does Travis Blanks working at nickel a reflection of how you want to use them?
Venables: …I love Travis. I love his attitude. He's as mature a freshman that I've been around. He's really hard on himself. That's probably the No. 1 attribute. I'm trying to teach other guys [to] be like Blanks. That guy comes to work every day. Makes mistakes, takes ownership, takes responsibility. You see him in a very purposeful way go attack that weakness the next day. You can coach him hard. He's not polished by any stretch. He has a chance, again, to be a real quality player in time. But he has the foundation and the makings of what a lot of special players have, in regards to all those intangibles. He's got length. He's got speed. He's got instincts, good ball skills. I think he'll be a big part of what we're doing this year. I'd be real surprised if he wasn't. He could play safety, line up and player corner right now.