The Tigers lost a number of starters from last year's defense. Brent Venables and Co. have a big task at hand developing young players on defense to replace the production lost from last year. The defense might be a work in progress but features a number of young, quality players and, based on Coach Venables and his experienced staff, I expect to see this defense make strides as the year goes on. Overall, the defensive coaching staff is full of veterans with long track records of success.
Brent Venables (DC/LBs)
Venables has a long history of coordinating strong defenses as well as being known as a great recruiter. He might be head coach Dabo Swinney's best hire during his tenure as head coach of the Tigers. After Clemson gave up 70 points to Geno Smith and West Virginia in the 2012 Orange Bowl, Swinney fired defensive coordinator Kevin Steele and hired Venables from Oklahoma, who was basically getting shafted out of his job by Bob Stoops who rehired his brother to run the Sooners' defense. Venables developed his coaching chops under quality coaches including Bill Snyder and Stoops. Venables played for the former at Kansas State before getting his first coaching job there. Ever since he took over the defense for the Tigers in 2013, that side of the ball has made dramatic improvements including a No. 1 ranking in 2014 and a top 10 ranking in 2015. Venables was also the Co-DC for the 2000 national champion Oklahoma Sooners. While he has done a great job as a defensive coordinator throughout his career, his work with linebackers has not gone unnoticed. Throughout his time as defensive coordinator for the Tigers, Venables has developed solid linebackers including Spencer Shuey, Stephone Anthony, Tony Steward, BJ Goodson, and Ben Boulware. Venables has a number of talented, young linebackers on this year's team that have a ton of potential for this year an beyond including Kendall Joseph, Dorian O'Daniel, Tre Lamar, and Rahshaun Smith.
While the Venables hire has been huge for the program's defense, Coach V has also been one of the nation's elite recruiters. Even with other great recruiters on staff including Jeff Scott, Tony Elliott, and Dan Brooks, I would go as far to consider Venables our 'ace' recruiter. He has been named one of the top recruiters in the nation by Rivals.com numerous times throughout his career. Venables brought a number of recruiting ties to the Tigers' staff from his time in Oklahoma including the areas around Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas. Venables also recruits areas in the northeast for the Tigers. In 2015, he was able to go into Connecticut and nab 5-star defensive tackle Christian Wilkins who was a major contributor for the Tigers' defensive line last year as freshman and will be looked upon to be a leader for the Tigers' defense the next two years. Other top players recruited by Venables to the Tigers include Lamar, Trayvon Mullen, Smith, O'Daniel, and Clelin Ferrell. Also important to note - Venables was one of DeMarco Murray's primary recruiters during his tenure at Oklahoma.
Marion Hobby (DEs/Co-DC)
Another solid hire on the defensive side of the ball for Swinney, Marion Hobby has a track record of developing NFL defensive ends at the college level as well as a two year stint as Sean Payton's defensive ends coach in New Orleans. Before his stint in the NFL, Hobby served as Tommy Bowden's defensive ends coach at Clemson in 2005. During both of his years with the Saints in 2006 and 2007, the late Will Smith had 10.5 sacks and 7 sacks respectively. After two years in the NFL, Hobby returned to the college game to serve as David Cutcliffe's defensive coordinator at Duke for three years. After three years as Duke's defensive coordinator, Hobby returned to serve as Co-DC/DEs coach on Swinney's staff in 2011. The Co-DC title is more/less just a title so it doesn't seem like it was really much of a demotion move from Duke to Clemson. Hobby really wanted to go back to focus more on purely coaching rather than coordinating. During his second tenure at Clemson, Hobby has developed a number of defensive ends who were selected in the draft including Malliciah Goodman, Andre Branch, and Kevin Dodd as well as future first rounders Vic Beasley and Shaq Lawson. Hobby will have a couple of talented young defensive ends to work with this year. Although there isn't as much depth at defensive end this year, Hobby's track record has proven that he should be able to get the most out of that talent.
Hobby's recruiting abilities have proven to be solid yet unspectacular throughout his career. Hobby brings recruiting ties from the southeast to Clemson from his time at Tennessee, Duke, and Ole Miss. While Alabama isn't a hot recruiting territory, Hobby is an Alabama native and brings recruiting ties to his hometown and recruits Alabama when there is a prospect in the state that the coaching staff wants to go after. A couple of notable players that Hobby has recruited to Clemson include Albert Huggins, Xavier Kelly, Clelin Ferrell, and Mike Williams. While Hobby is by no means a 'poor' recruiter, his strong suit is definitely as a technician.
Dan Brooks (DTs)
Definitely one of Swinney's best hires with his long, outstanding track record of developing elite defensive tackles, Dan Brooks is arguably the best combination of recruiter and coach on the staff. Hired as associate head coach/defensive tackles coach by Swinney after he got the permanent gig for the 2009 season, Brooks has been extremely valuable to the program as a recruiter, coach, and for the overall leadership of the program as he serves as one of Swinney's top lieutenants. Going back to his days as the defensive line coach at Florida in the 1980's, Brooks has a long track record of putting talented defensive tackles into the NFL. After coaching at Florida, Brooks went on to work for Mack Brown at UNC and Philip Fulmer at Tennessee before joining Swinney's first staff at Clemson. At Tennessee, Brooks coached future first round draft picks John Henderson, Albert Haynesworth, Justin Harrell, and Shaun Ellis. At Clemson, Brooks has coached a number of eventual NFL draft picks including Brandon Thompson, Jarvis Jenkins, and Grady Jarrett. Brooks is another coach who always get the most out of the talent he has to work with. He will have a number of talented defensive tackles to work with this coming season and the Brooks-Hobby combo at defensive line is easily one of the best position coaching tandems in the country.
Aside from being an outstanding defensive line coach, Brooks is also a solid recruiter. Throughout his career, Brooks has brought in a large number of solid recruits to programs he's worked for. He brings strong recruiting ties to North Carolina and Tennessee among other recruiting territories. During his days at Tennessee, Brooks served as Philip Fulmer's recruiting coordinator for a few years and was a huge reason for the Volunteers' success during the Fulmer years. At Clemson, Brooks has managed to bring in a number of solid-elite recruits including Stephone Anthony, Carlos Watkins, Dexter Lawrence, and Shaq Lawson. Brooks's coaching talent and experience have proven invaluable to the ascension of the football program and as a major resource for Swinney's ability to grow as a coach.
Mike Reed (DBs)
Reed took over Charlie Harbison before the 2013 season after Harbison left for Auburn. Reed has done an overall solid job of improving the secondary since his hire even though there have been a few inconsistencies with secondary play during his tenure. Along with Hobby, Reed is the only other coach on staff to have NFL coaching experience. He served as a secondary and special teams assistant for Andy Reid's Philadelphia Eagles for five years. During his tenure with Philadelphia, the Eagles made the Super Bowl in 2004 and Reed was also able to work with former Tiger great Brian Dawkins, who went on to have a Hall of Fame-esque career. After his Eagles stint, Reed went on to serve as the defensive backs coach for NC State before being let go as of the result of a head coaching change. Overall, the secondary has improved during his tenure and Reed has proved to be an upgrade over Harbison. Reed had his best year coaching the Tigers' secondary in 2015 when cornerbacks Mackenzie Alexander and Cordrea Tankersley along with safety Jayron Kearse were named All-ACC players. Alexander and Kearse went on to be drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the 2nd and 7th rounds respectively in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Along with solid defensive back coaching, Reed has also brought solid recruiting chops to the coaching staff. He brings recruiting ties to North Carolina along with the Northeast where he brings ties from his days playing for Tom Coughlin at Boston College. A few key players he has managed to recruit to Clemson include Mark Fields, Zerrick Cooper, and Isaiah Simmons, as well as 2017 commits AJ Terrell and LeAnthony Williams.