10 at 10: Venables displeased with Clemson defense Saturday

Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables and staff make the call. The Clemson Tigers played host to the Appalachian State Mountaineers at Memorial Stadium in Clemson Saturday, September 12, 2015. ¬ GWINN DAVIS / FOR POST AND COURIER ¬

CLEMSON – You’d think a final score of 17-9 would appease Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables.

Not so. Usually one to speak at length when in a good mood and not when he’s not, the man was gruff, answering 11 question in a rapid-fire time of 2-minute, 40-second span after Clemson’s spring game.

What got Venables’ dander up? Let’s get into it:

1) If you paid attention closely Saturday, the likes of Kyle Cote, Austin Jackson and Cameron Scott (all walk-ons) were used regularly at safety. That’s because the Tigers currently have three healthy scholarship safeties: Jadar Johnson, Van Smith and Tanner Muse.

“I’m not a magician. I can’t just, pffff, have another one just show up,” Venables said. “Because of our issues at corner, numbers-wise, Ryan Carter was a guy we had working there. Whether or not he has a chance to go back, you know, it doesn’t look great. All those young guys we signed got to come in and be ready to contribute.”

It would appear Isaiah Simmons, K’Von Wallace and Nolan Turner had better be ready, because at least one might be called upon to play immediately.

“That’s why we recruited them,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “I’d be concerned with the depth too, if we were playing this spring. That’s why we signed five (DBs.) But they’re coming.”

There is the impending return of Korrin Wiggins, who should be healed from last August’s torn ACL by this coming August.

“I don’t know what the schedule is. It really doesn’t matter because I can’t work with him until (August,)” Venables said. “He’ll be there in fall camp unless he has a setback.”

However, Venables sees Wiggins at nickel. “That was where he started before he got hurt.”

2) Also, if the spring game was any indication, Trayvon Mullen and Brian Dawkins Jr. might get a look at cornerback this fall.

Opposite boundary corner Cordrea Tankersley, Venables took umbrage with the competition at field corner between Mark Fields, Ryan Carter and Marcus Edmond – despite a couple of picks from that group.

“I don’t really see a separation yet. Mm-mmm,” Venables said. “I wasn’t real pleased, yeah. I wasn’t real pleased. I didn’t think our positioning was great. Thought we were terribly inconsistent. We’ve had a better spring than what they did today, absolutely.”

Edmond made an over-the-shoulder interception when quarterback Kelly Bryant was looking for Seth Ryan. Edmond evaded several tackles on a 53-yard winding return.

And then Carter intercepted Bryant with eight seconds left in the first half when the receiver, according to Swinney, ran the wrong route.

But long passing plays to Hunter Renfrow, Artavis Scott, Ray-Ray McCloud and Trevion Thompson torqued off the defensive coordinator. Asked how much the spring game counts relative to the other 14 practices, Venables said, “It’s the one I just watched. I put plenty of stock into it. It all counts.

“But when you put it together in its totality, I know we’ve got guys that can do it. Didn’t perform well there today in front of a good crowd. It’s going to be a pretty rowdy crowd here when we line up next.”

3) It would appear the likelihood of Christian Wilkins playing defensive end is realistic.

When the White squad defense rolled out for the opening drive, the tackles were Scott Pagano and Albert Huggins while the ends were Clelin Ferrell and Wilkins, who was solely a defensive tackle as a freshman in 2015.

“I’ve always liked end. I played predominantly end in high school, didn’t really play tackle in high school,” Wilkins said. “Coming here, I learned how to play 3-technique, whereas I’ve been playing end forever.”

Wilkins has looked up to Gerald McCoy and Reggie White, defensive linemen who played inside and out. Fox Sports reporter Stewart Mandel recently wrote Wilkins could take on a role similar to former Southern Cal lineman Leonard Williams, who was selected by the New York Jets with the sixth pick of the 2015 NFL Draft.

“He’ll be ready to play both,” Venables said.

4) While Wilkins converts from defensive tackle, the three pure ends on the roster had their good moments Saturday.

Austin Bryant made a 3rd and 5 deflection to end a drive, had another pass deflection and an eight-yard “sack” (all quarterbacks were ruled down once touched by a defender.) Richard Yeargin and Ferrell also did some good things; Yeargin had five tackles, while Ferrell had a pass break-up.

Venables, on who the two starters are: “I don’t know. We’ll see. I need to find two before I find three. I think we’ve got some good young guys that have a chance. You know who all the people are, but we’ve got a lot of work to do.”

5) Clemson helped the ACC test out a new official review system, where all replays are sent to a central command center in Greensboro, N.C. (the league’s headquarters) to help referees make official decisions.

The idea is to unveil the review system, similar to what’s used in the NFL and Major League Baseball, this fall. There were three reviews during Saturday’s spring game.

6) Count on Adam Choice to grab the primary backup spot at running back. He ran hard Saturday with a game-high 17 rushes for 88 yards, with five gains of eight yards or more.

7) Greg Huegel’s job is safe. Backup Alex Spence, who was initially counted upon moreso than the converted walk-on Huegel, missed an extra point and linered a badly-missed short FG attempt.

Huegel made both his extra-point tries, and was down the middle on a 31-yard field goal to close the scoring.

8) Artavis Scott had a kick return of 44 yards and a punt return of 32 yards, continually suggesting that when healthy, he’s the best option to return any football delivered from an opponent’s foot.

“He’s the guy right now we have the most confidence in. You saw why today,” Swinney said. “But we’re trying to develop some other guys.”

The Orange squad kick returners were Choice and McCloud; the White’s were Scott and C.J. Fuller. McCloud had three punt returns amassing nine yards, and struggled to corral one kick return.

Come this fall, incoming freshmen Tavien Feaster and Cornell Powell will be given looks there.

9) Wilkins was used as a personal punt protector last year, just one more way to get him on the field.

Who was used in the same position Saturday? That would be true freshman Dexter Lawrence, whose frame looks more befitted for a 25-year-old than a teenager.

Look for Lawrence in 2016 to play a similar role to Wilkins in 2015, as a backup defensive tackle.

“We had to block Christian last year. There’s not a whole lot of difference between those two,” co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said. “It’s going to be unbelievable. That’s just a credit to the level with which we’re recruiting.”

10) At least to your friendly Post and Courier beat reporter, the lasting memory from Clemson’s losing locker room in Glendale was the freshman Wilkins, who’d so quickly emerged as a football and vocal leader, letting tears drip to the floor as he proclaimed he would not leave Clemson without winning a national championship.

Nearly three months later to the day, Wilkins made this promise entering summer session: “I’m going to make sure other guys remember we did just lose the national championship, and if we want to get back, even when the coaches aren’t around and the fans aren’t in the stands, we’re going to have to put forth our best effort in everything we do.”

It all helps having a quarterback like the Tigers have.

“I still have a lot of things to work on, we all do,” Deshaun Watson said. “But we’re not where we want to be yet. We will be in August.”

-AB