CLEMSON — Trevor Lawrence stole the show, Kelly Bryant vowed he would find something to improve each day over the summer and for most of Saturday at Clemson’s spring game, the offense dominated every storyline. More specifically, the quarterbacks.
That meant the defensive unit, widely considered one of the best in the country, flew relatively under the radar during and after the Orange team's 28-17 victory that marked the end of Clemson’s spring practice period.
For 90 minutes Saturday afternoon, Clemson defensive coordinator Brent Venables ran back and forth across Clemson’s field from sideline to sideline, his young daughter in tow, as he handled play-calling duties for both Clemson’s Orange and White defensive teams.
And when it was all said and done, the always-intense Venables allowed himself to finally relax momentarily. The first to admit he has not been satisfied this spring, Venables actually liked much of what he saw Saturday.
The pieces, as he knows, are all there for the Tigers to be dominant on defense.
“That was pretty good,” he said afterward, acknowledging what everyone else had just seen. “It’s just another practice, there is plenty to learn, plenty to improve on. But there was a lot to build on and going into the summer, when we put those (orange and white) squads together, you feel pretty good.
“Never completely satisfied, man. We’ve got a lot to work on. But there’s a great foundation there and we’ve got length, we’ve got some speed, we’ve got a couple guys coming in, so we should be OK.”
“OK” would be an understatement.
Saturday, in front of 55,000 fans on hand to see what the quarterbacks might do, the defense had just as many impressive moments under Venables’ guidance. Senior defensive tackle Christian Wilkins had two sacks, as did five-star freshmen defensive ends K.J. Henry and Xavier Thomas, along with backup defensive end Justin Foster. Darnell Jefferies, Xavier Kelly, Clelin Ferrell and James Skalski all had one each and it was Skalski, along with redshirt freshman Baylon Spector, who led each team in tackles.
In terms of interceptions, there were four of them. One was snagged by sophomore A.J. Terrell, one came from junior K’Von Wallace for a 46-yard return and junior cornerback Travyon Mullen was responsible for two by himself. One of Mullen’s was an 84-yard pick six that offered a glimpse of his flashing speed.
“Definitely just as far as the talent, (it’s) second to none as far as the teams I’ve been on,” Wilkins said. “Obviously we’ve been blessed at Clemson and fortunate to just be able to recruit skill guys and talented guys at every position, but this — this is going to be a crazy year as far as the talent we have.”
As summer approaches, Clemson’s priority becomes developing that talent.
“I thought a lot of guys stood out,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “It’s another piece of the evaluation. We have 15 days (in spring practice). Whatever happened (Saturday), it’s just one day when it’s all said and done, but it is a great evaluation piece for us.”
Especially for the defense.