When: Saturday, 4 p.m.
Where: Memorial Stadium, Clemson
CLEMSON - Take it straight from one of the burly gents forced to deal with Clemson's defensive line every couple days in practice.
"I mean, heck, we go up against the best defensive line in the nation," center Ryan Norton said.
There's no gold-encrusted belt declaring Clemson's defensive line just that, but it is the vowed objective. Not to beat up its own offensive line, per se, but to re-earn that elite reputation this fall against actual opponents.
The Tigers' pass-rushers and run-stuffers led the country in tackles for loss in 2013, and most of the culprits are still around.
"We're going to be something bad for a lot of offensive linemen," Tigers defensive end Corey Crawford said. "We just have to keep our heads on straight, don't get too conceited, don't buy into the hype, just stay humble and we'll be pretty good."
Days like Wednesday give defensive coordinator Brent Venables cause for concern, that proven players like Crawford, Vic Beasley, Grady Jarrett, Shaq Lawson and about four or five others will keep pressing as if nobody knows their name.
"If they think they're going to roll their hat out there and people are going to be impressed with them and be intimidated by them, we got another thing coming," Venables said.
"You've got to invest in the process, come with the right mindset, be on edge, or you're going to get exposed. That happened out there (Wednesday). Like we're playing the Green Bay Packers out there."
Never easy to please, Venables was irate with his unit's focus in Wednesday's practice, in preparation for Saturday's spring game.
Maybe it's not such a bad thing for the touted defensive line - 34 of last year's 38 sacks belong to Tigers still on the roster - to gobble up some humble pie on a random practice in April. Or is it?
"I don't like it ever, no. I don't think it's all right," said a snarling Venables.
"That's unacceptable. If you accept it as a coach, then that's probably what you're going to get, is more of it."
Certainly, Venables holds higher expectations for older players on the defensive line than, say, younger position groups like linebacker and cornerback. That's why he'll be harsher on the defensive line.
"For our guys to (mess) around, I'm disappointed with the lack of leadership this late in spring to come out and not have our guys ready to compete in practice," Venables said. "I don't give them a mulligan. Can you be at the same emotional high pitch every single time you go out there? No. But you also know when it's at the other extreme, and that's never acceptable, ever."
When the games start counting Aug. 30 at Georgia, and thereafter through the ACC schedule and finishing against South Carolina, that's when Crawford believes his line will shine.
"I know there's other D-lines out there, but I feel like our D-line is more experienced, everybody's going to contribute," Crawford said. "We've got that chance to be the No. 1 defensive line."
A statement which Venables isn't sure how to quantify in the unknown of the offseason.
"Well, we haven't seen all the defensive lines, so I don't know how you measure that," Venables said. "I think we're deep. I think we have some talented guys up there who have shown they'll play physical and play hard.
"(If) you want to play at a high level and have great success, you've got to earn that every day. You can't cheat this game."
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