Coming off a season that saw Clemson lead the country in total defense, defensive coordinator Brent Venables has been looking for playmakers.
You see, Clemson lost the majority of its starting firepower from its front seven a season ago, but most pundits don't realize the players behind those starters received a large number of snaps too. And in most circumstances, those backups performed quite well.
This spring, those reserves have stepped up their play to the point that Dabo Swinney called one of them, D.J. Reader "unblockable."
And others like Carlos Watkins, Kevin Dodd and Shaq Lawson have also been lauded for their play. Dodd actually led all defenders with six tackles Saturday, including two for loss and one sack.
Overall, Clemson's defensive play caller sounded pretty confident about his unit's performance this March and April.
"Overall I thought we had a really strong spring," he said. "I think we'll have the opportunity to have a really strong defense. We have a little bit of depth in the secondary and we'll be strong up front. We've got to continue to develop in our pass rush. We've got good chemistry. We need more depth at linebacker because we are an injury away right now from that position from being a liability, but we have a good core.
"We've got five d-linemen showing up here this summer and that's going to help us. But we have a chance to have a strong starting 11."
The White team beat the Orange team 35-24 Saturday after a flurry of first half points went on the scoreboard. Venables wasn't overly concerned there, but there appears to be some room for competition at the starting cornerback position opposite Mackensie Alexander.
Alexander looks to be the lockdown corner for this defense, as he was last year, but the other cornerback spot is open for business.
"Cordrea Tankersly, Ryan Carter and Marcus Edmond and Adrian Baker are our corners (there)," he said. "They've all done some really good things but some of them need to add strength. But I like the group because we have some length and toughness there. I feel really good about Cordrea. He had a great spring a year ago then didn't have as good a fall camp for whatever reason. We'll get Mark Fields here in this summer and he'll have a chance."
And as far as rushing the passer is concerned, the Tigers are having to replace the all-time leading sack master in school history in Vic Beasley. Venables said it will be by a committee approach.
"Shaq has done it," he said. "[Kevin] Dodd will be a great compliment to him along with Ebo [Ogundeko]. [Richard] Yeargin can help us out and we've got three more defensive ends coming in here this summer. One or two of them will probably have to come in and compete. You only need two, as they say, but those two need to be awfully good. Richard [Yeargin] had a good spring. Ebo showed he is playing winning football too. I think we have a chance to be strong."
Venables pleased with progress of the defense
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