Clemsons Brent Venables has deja vu when examing defensive depth
CLEMSON — Brent Venables has been confronted with paper-thin depth charts before.
When starting his coaching career at Kansas State, the Wildcats were not a destination for high-end recruits, and coach Bill Snyder’s teams were typically undermanned in the 1990s.
How many defensive linemen did Kansas State play?
“We had four total. Four,” said Venables, a former K-State linebackers coach. “We had a defensive end, tackle, tackle, D-end. That’s it. We had three backers and four DBs. They played every game, every snap.
“That’s what I tell these guys (at Clemson), ‘Why do we have to have a rotation?’”
Venables knows the game has changed much in two decades. He knows depth is critical. The tempo at which offenses play and the way they spread the field forces defenders to cover ground and expend more energy. But the lack of depth Venables has seen in training camp makes the parallel to Kansas State circa 1997 applicable to Clemson in 2012.
Clemson will need its first-team defense to be productive but also durable this season because depth is perhaps the biggest issue facing the unit, which allowed 29.3 points and 394 yards per game last season.
“We don’t have a lot to work with,” Venables said.
Clemson has no proven pass rusher of run stuffer.
The team has lost four defensive linemen to the second round of the NFL draft over the last two years, eroding the talent base up front, and Clemson has just five defensive players on the roster from the 2009 recruiting class: Malliciah Goodman, Corico Wright, Jonathan Meeks, Spencer Shuey and Quandon Christian.
How many players does he trust to be game-ready against Auburn on Saturday?
Between 11 and 15, Venables said last week.
Venables is especially concerned about his depth at cornerback.
Cornerback Martin Jenkins is likely headed for surgery to repair a sports hernia-like issue and is expected to miss the entire 2012 season. He allowed the fewest yards per attempt (5.3) of any Clemson defensive back this season.
Former nickel back/cornerback Xavier Brewer was moved to free safety in the spring, but he will be forced to play at multiple positions.
Bashaud Breeland has shown promise at cornerback and gained experience last year, but he’s paired with inexperienced corner Darius Robinson and green backups in Garry Peters and Cortez Davis.
Coach Dabo Swinney said he is pleased with the progress he has seen from Peters this camp.
Freshman Travis Blanks is expected to be limited to Venables’ hybrid safety/linebacker position.
Clemson’s defensive backfield depth will be tested as even pro-style offenses like Auburn’s will spread the field with three or more wide receivers.
“Not very good. Not very good,” Venables said of his cornerback depth. “We’ve got some guys that will have their opportunity sooner rather than later to show what they can do.”
Clemson appears to be relatively deep at linebacker, and the staff is pleased with what it has seen from its young defensive tackles in camp.
Still, Venables sounded a lot like his predecessor, Kevin Steele, when evaluating his defense last week.
“It will be a process all year long,” Venables. “We are making progress, but we are still a work in progress.”