CLEMSON — What if the Clemson defense could match the effectiveness of the Clemson offense? What might the Tigers, a likely preseason top-10 team, then be capable of in 2013? Would they have the capability to match their 1981 season?
What: Clemson’s spring gameWhen: 4 p.m. todayWhere: Memorial Stadium, ClemsonTickets: free admissionTV: none
Moreover, what if the Clemson defense was ahead of the Clemson offense entering today’s spring game at Memorial Stadium? Clemson coach Dabo Swinney says that is in fact the case, something that seemed an impossibility months ago when the Clemson defense was struggling to get off the field and the Tigers’ offense, which returns a number of key starters and coordinator Chad Morris, was breaking records on it.
Swinney believes for the first time in his tenure he will have both an above average offense and defense to place on the field this fall. He hopes the spring game is a sneak preview of such balance.
“The one thing I take away from this spring is our defensive play,” Swinney said. “We are a lot further along defensively. (Monday’s scrimmage) was just a butt-kicking. I wish I could paint a more balanced picture. But from my perspective, that’s good because I know our offense is going to be good.”
In Monday’s scrimmage the Clemson defense recorded 14 sacks. Yes, they were of the touch variety.
Yes, left tackle Brandon Thomas missed the scrimmage because of class.
Yes, Tajh Boyd was limited to a handful of snaps so backup quarterback contestants Chad Kelly and Cole Stoudt could get more work, a competition that will drag on into the summer.
But the numbers speak to improved experience and know-ledge in second-year coordinator Brent Venables’ scheme, resulting in the byproduct of playing speed.
“What I see is our defensive line dominating our offensive line,” Swinney said. “And we only graduated one offensive line starter (Dalton Freeman).”
Swinney said he thinks his defense could get back to playing like it did in 2010 when it was one of the better units in the country.
But in 2010, the Clemson offense was anemic. And when the offense took major strides forward in 2011 and 2012 under Chad Morris, the defense took significant strides backward, resulting in the firing of Kevin Steele after the 70-33 loss to West Virginia in the 2012 Orange Bowl.
The defense struggled again early last season. But there was improvement made in the second half of the season, capped by a tremendous showing against LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Venables has implemented more of his playbook this spring and the young Clemson defenders are playing faster thanks to greater comfort in the scheme.
“Guys have better familiarity with (the defense),” Venables said this spring. “They’re playing faster and more physical. We’re still a work in progress … every year is different, but I see some of the experience showing up.”
No Clemson defender has opened more eyes this spring than Vic Beasley, who is hoping to grow from a situational pass rusher into a full-time force at defense end to give Clemson something it has lacked since Da’Quan Bowers’ 2010 season: an impact pass rusher.
“I think it’s really coming together,” Beasley said of the defense. “We have come out with the right mindset and got it done.”