Venables challenges returning players

When Vic Beasley and Stephone Anthony elected to return to Clemson for their senior seasons, a sense of relief engulfed Tiger fans around the country.

After all, Clemson's defense led the country in tackles for loss and Beasley and Anthony were major reasons why.

The two combined for 36.5 tackles for loss and 17 sacks in 2013. In addition, Beasley was named a first-team All American by several services and Anthony led the Tigers in tackles with 131 total stops.

But don't tell any of that to Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables.

Even though most pundits are projecting Clemson's defense to be one of the nation's best, Venables said the challenge in the two players returning for their senior seasons is significant.

Very significant.

"It doesn't matter if you have good players who come back to school and they aren't working as hard and they need to and they don't let you coach them as hard," Venables said. "If they are dogging it and not playing with the right technique in certain plays and they aren't being as physical as they need to be, and they feel like everybody owes them something because they, quote-unquote 'came back,' well where did you go to begin with? Nowhere."

"I think there were 110 guys or something like that and 44 were undrafted. But if you go talk to them all, they'll tell you well a scout told me or a GM told me that I was going to be a first or second round pick. A lot of that stuff is all talk. It's propaganda. I'm not mad at anybody but this is an element that's not going away and you have to fight that within your own program and hopefully our guys are staying for what's right and making the best decision based on their circumstances."

Of course, Venables tenure in Clemson has been one that's gotten off to a strong start. After rehabbing a unit that struggled mightily in 2011, Venables' group help opponents to 14 points or less six times last season, his second in Tigertown.

The Tigers finished 25th in the country in total defense and 24th in scoring defense.

Given the fact the six seniors return in the two-deep across the front four, plus Anthony and former five-star linebacker Tony Steward at linebacker, expectations are even higher this year.

"We have quality in numbers now, but we also have quality in our depth," Venables said. "Do we have a Lombardi Award winner inside? I don't know. If it's going to be anybody it's going to be Grady Jarrett because I know people hate trying to block him. It was a travesty he was third-team All ACC last year. He makes plays against everybody.

"I really like our front seven. We have two new outside linebackers and I like them. And it's not because of our talent as how I watch them work and their toughness. Talent is part of it sure, but they trust each other and they understand the system and we have good solid depth. Hopefully they'll still be humble and we have good chemistry. Last year chemistry as big of a part of the success that we had on the field as anything.

"They trust each other, they like each other. I love pulling up clips and seeing population to the ball. Gang-tackling. And we did that. Get your bleep to the ball now!"

Venables also said it comes to individual work ethic as well... not to mention attention to details.

Clemson's fiery defensive coordinator says he learned that long ago in sitting in on a defensive meeting with one of the NFL's best defensive minds. It's not just about talent, it comes down to much more than that.

"There's got to be accountability with this group. And if you get that, it works," he said. "I remember sitting in with a meeting with Bill Belichick and I remember him going over the individual notes and then taking that out to the field where he's ripping guys that have been to 15 Pro Bowls because they aren't doing their job.

"Why have the New England Patriots had this level of success? You know why? It's about the details. It's not just having great players. It's not just Tom Brady. It's all in the attention to details. And having respect for the game. Respect for the coaches and respect for the player across from you and respect putting in the work. And that's what we gotta do. We know that."

And it's all part of the challenge Venables continues to lay out in front of his group.

Knowing him, they are more than ready to accept it, too.

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