- Heather Dinich, ESPN Staff Writer
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For Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables, the formula for producing a national championship-caliber defense isn’t all that perplexing.
The two things his group needs to do, he said, is consistently put pressure on quarterbacks and develop some consistent playmakers at the corner position.
“That’s a position that is a big concern for us,” Venables said. “I don’t think we need anybody to be superman, but we need some guys to really emerge from a playmaking standpoint and playing at a consistent level. I think we have a chance to have a terrific defense, but without either one of those things coming to fruition, it will be tough. That’s just the way it is. You’ve got to rush the passer, and you can’t give up big plays. Those two things are staples of a good defense.”
This spring, Clemson only has half of the equation, as it waits for more help in the secondary from the 2013 recruiting class.
Clemson’s offense gets all of the ink, while the defense has earned the label as the missing piece to the program’s hopes for a national title this season. If the Tigers can continue to build upon the success they finished 2012 with, the group has a chance to knock off Georgia in the season opener and become a legitimate title contender. So far, Venables said he has liked what he has seen from the defensive line in spring practices, but the corner position remains a question because there is so much youth and inexperience there.
“We’re really young,” Venables said. “We’re relying on some guys that haven’t played much there. We signed eight DBs in the last class. We’re going to have to play half of them, find out who’s ready to play, and the other half will redshirt. We’re very thin there in the first place.”
The secondary will be led by returning starter Travis Blanks, who played outside linebacker and as a fifth defensive back much of last season. He is expected to play safety this fall. Bashaud Breeland and Garry Peters are two more returning secondary players who had significant experience last year. Breeland played in 10 games and started five before missing the last two games with an injury. He had 32 tackles for the season. Peters saw more playing time in the second half of the season and finished with 20 tackles and eight passes broken up, including two important deflections in the win over LSU.
The Chick-fil-A Bowl was a highlight for the Clemson defense, as it finished the season 22nd in the nation in sacks, including a season-high six in the bowl game against LSU. Clemson held LSU to just 219 yards and nine first downs, and forced eight three-and-outs.
The question now is whether or not Clemson can build upon that.
“Someone has to emerge -- it doesn’t have to be one guy -- but when you can have a consistent pass rush with your four and a playmaker there, you saw that in the LSU game, where their six or seven can’t block our four,” Venables said. “When you can do that, it gives you a lot more flexibility on defense, creating that pressure. In the first half of the year we were God-awful at getting to the quarterback. In the second half, we doubled our sack total and tackles for loss and negative plays. That disrupts the flow of an offense.”
It will have to do it on a more consistent basis in order to become elite.