Starters Robert Smith and Jayron Kearse were the top dogs late in 2013 with Jadar Johnson as, really, the only other option when Blanks hit the shelf.
So, yeah, there was concern about, dating all the way back to last spring. Some 365 days since then, Brent Venables feels good about where things stand at the position, much better than he did when Johnson was just a midyear enrollee and Kearse was still in high school.
"I think there is a lot more certainty on what guys are capable of. There's experience that's been gained there…we played Jayron, Robert and Jadar, those guys played a bunch of snaps," Venables said. "We have T.J. Green moving over there. He's shown a knack. I like our size back there, we have great length.
"There are some big dudes back there, we've got a strong foundation there of understanding, much further ahead of where we were than a year ago."
Last spring, Johnson was skipping the last semester of his senior year at Orangeburg-Wilkinson High School to get ready for Clemson. A year later, Venables said about Johnson: "Two completely different players, they're in different solar systems."
And Green, who's recently converted from wide receiver, has been another welcomed addition.
"He's playing with his size and his length is showing up. He's got tremendous ball skills and great range," Venables said. "I'm pleased with his progress."
Another question looms at WILL linebacker. While Venables likes what he's got with Tony Steward leading the battle for the position, he does have concern about losing Spencer Shuey's leadership.
"Pleased with [Steward's] progress," Venables said. "Still halfway to go in the spring summer -- leadership, Spencer [Shuey] was a great leader for us, made examples for everybody else to follow and made a ton of big plays, made a ton of really big plays, was so incredibly consistent, so Tony is capable of all those things.
"It's an opportunity for him to seize. I know he's excited to do it. He's come with great focus, hunger and I expect good things from him."
Also at linebacker this spring, Ben Boulware and B.J. Goodson are both cross-training at WILL and MIKE.
With a few days left before the first scrimmage of the spring, Venables offered a broad sweeping assessment of what he wants to see from the defense, starting on Monday afternoon.
"The secondary come together, one and two-deep, our WILL linebacker and SAM linebacker establish themselves," Venables said, "And it may not happen by the end of the spring. Just like the quarterback battle, it may not be solved.
"Consistency up front, those guys are fighting – Carlos [Watkins] getting back healthy, Josh [Watson] getting back healthy, D.J. [Reader] improving on the little things, those things he's got to get better at. Shaw [Lawson], he can't not be a freshman anymore. Corey [Crawford] has to improve in all fundamentals, Vic [Beasley] has to get stronger and gain that size. That will help him in his functional play."
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