Venables starts rebuilding job of Clemson 'D'

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CLEMSON, S.C. — New Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables ran onto the practice fields with his players Wednesday to start rebuilding a group tarnished by its embarrassing performance at the Orange Bowl last season.

Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney (left) chats with new defensive coordinator Brent Venables during the first day of spring NCAA college football practice Wednesday.  MARK CRAMMER/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney (left) chats with new defensive coordinator Brent Venables during the first day of spring NCAA college football practice Wednesday.

Tigers coach Dabo Swinney knows it will be Venables who draws most of the attention this spring.

“No one wants to know about the players,” Swinney said. “They want to know how excited Brent Venables was.”

Venables didn’t disappoint.

He pushed players into position, shouted out directions and jumped around anywhere he was in his first time hitting the field after 13 successful seasons at Oklahoma.

“It’s an emotional game. I coach with emotion and intensity,” Venables said.

That was evident. Venables lined up alongside his linebackers during some early drills, demonstrating footwork, position and technique. He had his hands on stellar sophomore-to-be linebacker Stephone Anthony, directing him where to go when the ball was snapped. Venables called out to one of last year’s starting linebacker, Corico Hawkins, after one play: “I don’t want to see you standing up. Get down.”

Venables should have a lot to say this spring as the Tigers try and rebound from their last game, a defensive disaster in the Orange Bowl as West Virginia scored a postseason record in the 70-33 defeat.

Less than two weeks later, Swinney parted ways with defensive leader Kevin Steele and then convinced Venables, who once talked to Clemson athletic director Terry Don Phillips about the head coaching job before Swinney was hired, that he was the man to fix the problems.

Venables agreed to a four-year deal worth $800,000 to join the Tigers.

First though, Venables has to figure out the practice routine after more than a decade working for Sooners coach Bob Stoops. “That was the biggest thing because we’re creatures of habit,” he said. “You’re kind of a fish out of water at time.”

Swinney said Venables has eagerly jumped in since his January hiring and brought the excitement to the program he expected. “I think the guys feed off of that,” the coach said. “It was a good first practice for the first time we’ve all been out there together.”

Venables had a reputation for developing linebackers at Oklahoma, something Clemson desperately needs. The Tigers are filled with players that have potential like Anthony, Lateek Townsend and Tony Steward <0x2014> all who’ll be sophomores next season. Venables likes what he’s seen so far out of the 6-foot-3, 235-pound Anthony.

“He’s got some skills that jump out at you,” Venables said.

Venables begged off talking about areas of most improvement or even players who stood out because of his newness. “This is process,” he said. “It’ll come in time.”

Swinney hopes Venables has the same effect on the defense that last year’s coordinator hire, Chad Morris, had on the offense. Clemson’s attack excelled in Morris’ fast-paced schemes while first-year starters in quarterback Tajh Boyd and receiver Sammy Watkins became record-breaking stars. That helped the Tigers to their first ACC crown in 20 years.

Clemson’s defense had trouble keeping up down the stretch last season. The team allowed 28 or more points seven of its final eight games, including the Orange Bowl debacle. Venables said when he was hired he only watched a quarter of the contest, but won’t be swayed about his players because of that awful showing.

Defensive lineman Maliciah Goodman said Venables hasn’t spoken about the bowl outing. “I’m not going to forget what happened, but I’m not going to dwell on it either,” Goodman said.

Swinney is confident Venables will succeed with the Tigers. He also sure about something else. “Brent Venables is crazy,” Swinney said. “That’s good.”

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