Going into his eighth season as Clemson Defensive Coordinator, Brent Venables is once again tasked with replacing a majority of his starting defense. It’s a process he’s become quite familiar with in his time in the upstate of South Carolina.
What he’s faced with this season isn’t much different than what we saw after the 2014 season. The Tigers had to replace most of the front seven off of the nation’s best defense. Many of the talking heads thought the defense was bound to take a huge step back.
That wasn’t the case, however. Despite the number of losses, there were guys primed and ready to step up, and take over those roles. Guys that had plenty of experience thanks to the depth at most positions and the staffs penchant for rotating guys early and often.
Sound familiar? It should. That’s almost the exact scenario that his Tiger defense is faced with in 2019. Although, this time around it’s safe to say there’s a little more talent scattered throughout the bunch. Not that the 2015 defense didn’t have talent, it’s just the 2019 defense has more, an abundance of it to be honest.
It’s no secret the Tigers are losing some size on the interior of the defensive line. Instead of having two guys who were upwards of 665 lbs combined, you’re looking at two guys combining to weigh around 610. It’s not inconceivable to think that could have an effect on the run defense. It’s not that far fetched to think the defense might take a small step back in that area.
That’s not to suggest the run defense is going to be terrible or anything, just that it’s possible it might not be quite what it’s been the last 2-3 seasons. As good as it was over those last 2-3 seasons, a small step back could likely mean it’s still a pretty good rush defense.
Now, here’s where we get to the new look part. No, we’re not talking about some big change in scheme or philosophy. We are just talking a tweak or two. Let’s face it, you can’t fix something that isn’t broken.
After last weeks weigh in, it’s fairly apparent DT won’t be the only position that loses a little size. Chad Smith and James Skalski were at 233 and 234 respectively, after both played about ten pounds heavier last season. By comparison, last year Tre Lamar played somewhere in the 250-55 range while Kendall Joseph played in the 235-240 range.
Expect this group of LB’s to play fast. Very fast. One of the biggest knocks on Chad Smith has been his lack of speed sideline to sideline. Similar to Lamar, he’s been mostly good when playing the run, but has struggled some in pass coverage against speedier receivers.
When Christian Wilkins and Big Dex were anchoring the DL, both were able to consistently draw double teams, leaving the linebackers free to attack and make plays. It’ll be interesting to see if Nyles Pinckney and Jordan Williams can continue to draw those double teams.
With both Smith and Skalski having trimmed down a little and looking lean, they should be able to shoot their gaps quicker. Whether it’s coming down in run support or coming on a blitz. Not to mention the fact that being faster hopefully leads to both improving in their pass coverage.
It’s actually kind of scary to think about this defense with faster linebackers across the board. Not only faster, but more athletic. So no, we’re not looking at wholesale changes in philosophy or any kind of change in the scheme. What we are looking at is more speed and you can never have to much of that.