What do you remember about the Georgia game from last year?
Venables: Once that first quarter got finished with, it really felt like we were in control of the tempo of the game despite whatever plays they had gotten. That’s just how you felt as a play caller during the course of the game. Two minute situation there at the end, gave them a quick easy 80 yards was on the play caller, not the players. With that being said it’s a great challenge. They’ve got enough experience up front and with the receivers and they’ve got two creatures at running back and signed two more creatures at running back. They’ve got a speedy guy named Isaiah Mackenzie who I know very well. Isaiah and Nick Chubb were in my recruiting area. I know what those guys bring to the table. Plenty of sleepless nights with Marshall and Gurley. It’s exciting, the challenge that they present. They can move the football and take the top off a defense. The quarterback is experienced enough. He knows what to do with the ball. He showed great composure as a starter and when he came in against Kentucky. They won’t have any limitations on offense whatsoever. Everything’s on the table
What has Mackenzie Alexander that has put him at the top of the depth chart?
Venables: A little bit more consistency. He’s got great instincts. He’s become a better student of the game. He makes a lot of competitive plays on the football.
What about that competition between Jadar [Johnson] and Jayron [Kearse]? Is that still down to the wire?
Venables: Yeah. I think we feel comfortable with both guys. We’ll see who has a better week of practice.
Can Vic [Beasley] be even better than he was last year?
Venables: I don’t know. We’ll see. A lot of times when that question is asked, particularly in the media, it’s all about stats. Sometimes that linebacker played his butt off, but he only has three tackles and you think jeez he didn’t show up in the stats, but he had a terrific game. Guys just doing their job, not trying to do too much or too often. When you try to get that sack or tackle for loss or that okie doke swim move on third and one you’re gonna get embarrassed. You’ve got to play within the confines of the system. If you do and play with effort and technique and awareness, you’ll make plays. I don’t get caught up in “Vic needs to get 14 sacks”. Make the plays you’re supposed to make and capable of making, and if you do you’ll play good defense.
Is it different calling plays in this era where you have to defend so many snaps? It seems like the stats are much more skewed towards the offenses even in games in which the defense can set the tone.
Venables: I just think that’s a byproduct of playing well and having success as a team. At the end of the game if you gave up 40 and played like crap, then you’re obviously disappointed. I thought the Ohio State game we won the line of scrimmage, controlled their running game and played outstanding on third down. But at the end of the day they had XYZ at stats. You always have a perspective at whether or not you controlled the game. At the end of the year, hopefully we made improvement as a unit. Sometimes the stats tell, and sometimes they don’t. I recognize performance week in and week out- day in and day out- and hopefully at the end of the year we’re getting better as a unit and trending in the right direction and giving ourselves a chance to win on defense regardless of whatever the other side of the ball is capable of doing. It’s not “This year we have to play better.” That’s never been our focus. You need to focus on what you can control.
How many game-ready defensive ends do you have?
Venables: Politically correct answer? We’ll roll out four or five guys.
Is Kevin [Dodd] ready?
Venables: Yeah we’ll see. He’s gonna be on that bus so he better be ready.
Tony Steward steps up in that weakside spot. Can you compare him to Spencer Shey? Are they very similar players?
Venables: I don’t like comparing. Tony brings a lot of things Spencer didn’t, and a lot of the qualities are the same. Tony is ready for this. He’s an experienced player. He’s athletic, instinctive, tough, and hardworking. He’s a great practice player, very committed to this football team and unselfish. I’m excited to see him have the opportunity to line up alongside Steph and have a great year.