By Will Vandervort
CLEMSON, SC — Brent Venables says his defense still has work to do, but he likes the progress his group has made through the first eight practices of fall camp thus far.
Clemson’s new defensive coordinator watched his unit create three turnovers and dial up enough pressure to keep the Clemson offense guessing in the Tigers first stadium scrimmage Saturday at Death Valley.
“We have work to do still, but I really like our attitude,” Venables said. “We had some guys flying around being physical and being sure of themselves. We handled some tough situations well and responded well.”
The Clemson defense had a lot of guys play well, especially first-team players such as cornerback Bashaud Breeland, safety Rashard Hall, cornerback Xavier Brewer and defensive end Malliciah Goodman.
But some of the younger reserves also showed up. Defensive tackle Josh Watson had two tackles for loss as did fellow defensive tackle Tra Thomas. Defensive end Tavaris Barnes had a sack and a tackle for loss, while linebacker Kellen Jones, a transfer from Oklahoma who will have to redshirt this year, had six tackles.
“Playing with effort and playing physical was kind of our goal today,” Venables said. “Yeah, we gave up a few plays there, but we really came up with some big plays ourselves. We showed signs of improvement, which is what we wanted with both the first, second and third team groups.”
Hall and Breeland recorded back-to-back interceptions on consecutive possessions, while Dante Stewart had one as well. Hall’s interception came on a tipped pass from Cole Stoudt, which ended a scoring threat for the second-team offense.
Stoudt had led the offensive down the field, including a 27-yard pass to tight end Stanton Seckinger, before the interception came inside the 15. Hall returned the errant pass 48 yards.
Breeland’s interception came on the very next offensive play as he fought off wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to pick off a Tajh Boyd pass.
The offense had its moments, though. Wide receiver Charone Peake was able to sneak into the back of the end zone and catch a touchdown pass from Stoudt. He also broke off a 32-yard catch-and-run from Morgan Roberts for another score, while Jaron Brown hauled in a 56-yard touchdown pass from Boyd.
Brown’s touchdown, which was a short pass in the flats, was set up when wide receiver Sammy Watkins had a crack-back block to spring the 6-foot-2, 200-pound receiver. Boyd also had a 32-yard touchdown run on an option play.
“There were some good and some bad,” Venables said. “I liked the attitude and the effort as well as the leadership we have on our defense. They like each other and they don’t mind coming out and competing. They don’t mind coming out here to work.
“I think they are looking to redeem themselves from a year ago. Between all of us, they have a lot to prove and I think they recognize that and they are embracing it, which is what you want.”
Venables pointed out that there is still a long way to go in camp, but if his unit keeps showing effort, maturity and toughness things are only going to get better.
“Everybody is working hard,” he said. “You are going to start getting into the middle of your grind now. Now is when you have to really bite down and fight through the two-a-day mindset. We will give them a few hours off here and really get back at it on Monday.”