CLEMSON — Brent Venables takes a lot of pride in defensive back play. The Clemson Tigers have long been tough and nasty in the secondary under the highly-touted defensive coordinator.
That was not the case in 2020.
“We’ve dominated the perimeter the last 10 years since I’ve been here and the perimeter has not been an issue,” Venables told the media last week. “I thought last year we were soft on the perimeter.”
In the spring, the No. 1 goal for Clemson’s defense was to fix their issues in the secondary. The Tigers had a tough year last fall and must get the errors corrected if the program wants to get back to the national championship.
In the spring game, the position group impressed in front of 17,101 fans at Memorial Stadium. The weakness of last year looked like a potential strength of the football team in 2021.
Jalyn Phillips led Clemson with seven solo tackles from his safety position. Nate Wiggins looked like a budding star at cornerback with four tackles and a pass breakup. R.J. Mickens made a terrific interception from the deep safety spot. Andrew Booth Jr. looked like a potential star with five tackles and a crazy one-hand snag on the sideline.
Called out-of-bounds but Andrew Booth makes one-handed interceptions like it's a routine play… 👀 pic.twitter.com/e76SPIMhpo
— Clemson Football (@ClemsonFB) April 3, 2021
The defense had the upper hand in the intrasquad scrimmage and that played out in the 14-13 final score. Neither Clemson offense put up more than 4.4 yards per play and there were only two plays in 122 snaps that went for over 30 yards. That will win you some games.
The sticky coverage by the corners and the smart play by the safeties limited star sophomore quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei to just 6.21 yards per attempt as the Clemson secondary more than held its own.
This success all happened while Clemson dealt with a ton of missed time from expected contributors during spring camp. Mario Goodrich was out for the spring game after getting the most snaps during practice. Expected starting cornerback Sheridan Jones had to miss practice time due to COVID-19 protocols. Star freshman Andrew Mukuba broke a bone in his arm after getting reps at safety, corner and nickel during the spring.
All of the missed time has helped Venables build depth and competition in the secondary. The Tigers were able to keep super senior Nolan Turner out of contract drills to open up more reps for everyone else. All of this has paid off to make sure the Clemson defense is once again elite on the perimeter in 2021 with talent, production, and depth.
“I like the improvement I’ve seen in our back seven,” said Venables. “I’ve seen some real improvement with a variety of guys.”