"The best defenses I've been around, it starts up the middle. You've got a big, physical presence in the middle, as well d-tackles that can be fairly disruptive, that's a recipe to play good defense," Venables said. "If you're soft in the middle or you don't quite have a physical, imposing figure back there, the flip-side is true."
In year two under Venables, Anthony has a stronger sense of self, much more so than he did in 2012.
"Last year, he played timid…he wasn't real confident," Venables said.
Preparation is a big part in the improvement.
"I know this: He's investing a great deal before we ever get to the practice field everyday. That's been an ongoing process since the conclusion of last season," Venables said. "I think that there's no doubt that he's bought on. His performance is a reflection of that.
"This system really works for linebackers if you really understand it and you trust it. If you have some talent on top of that, it can be really good for backers, in particular. He's a by-product of the investment, the work, the trust, the confidence and the system as well."
Venables added, "[Anthony] was one of the most improved players coming out of the spring. In fall camp, that was very evident. He was the most improved linebacker.
"His play is a reflection of the improvement you've seen him make, fundamentals, knowledge [and] all of that."
The better BreelandWhile Venables counts Anthony as the most improved linebacker, Bashaud Breeland could be considered the most improved cornerback.
So, what's different for Breeland in 2013?
"Just his discipline, doing all the little things the right way -- discipline with his eyes, his technique, doing his job," Venables said.
Breeland has 17 tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack, two pass breakups and an interception through 191 snaps this season.
"He's playing a lot better, a lot more confident, really being consistent," Venables said.
More pressureMost teams in college football have played either four or five games. There's even a couple that have played just three.
Clemson, of course, has played four games. The Tigers' defense has 10 sacks. They're tied for fifth in the country with 3.75 sacks per game.
Venables expected the pass rush to be better this season.
"I felt that would be a strength," he said. "I don't put a whole lot of stock into where you rank and those types of things."
Vic Beasley leads the team with six. Nationally, he's tied for the third-most.
Nine other Clemson defenders have a sack, three of whom are defensive linemen.
"I thought the front would be a strength of ours and it's played out to be true," Venables said. "If we're going to play well from here on out, it will have to continue to be that way.
"If you start getting blocked and beat 1-on-1, nothing goes right."