Iron Sharpens Iron: Elliott and Venables make each other better with practice battles

by - Staff Writer -
Elliott says that Venables is the best in the game.
Elliott says that Venables is the best in the game.

We often hear the phrase ‘iron sharpens iron’ when talking about the best offensive players going against the best defensive players, but the same can be said for Clemson’s Tony Elliott and Brent Venables.

Elliott is in his sixth season and first year as sole offensive coordinator for the top-ranked Tigers, while Venables has been defensive coordinator since 2012 and they compete against each other – arguably the best in the game at what they do – every day in practice.

Venables gave Elliott one of the biggest compliments he could when he said the Tigers’ offensive signal caller understands what opposing defenses want to do and how they will adjust throughout the game.

“He's fabulous. He's really good, so smart, understands how to put you in conflict, understands defense,” Venables said of Elliott. “I think that's important to really understand how defenses think, react, adjust. He understands the DNA of the opposing play-caller. He can quickly see where weaknesses are - whether it's a player or it's a scheme - and he's really good at setting things up and attacking you where you're weak. He's really good at taking advantage of his personnel. He does a really nice job of the presentation and putting his guys in a position of advantage. He doesn't get rattled. He's got a great demeanor about him. He's fantastic.”

Making Venables’ job even more difficult is the fact that he has to face the nation’s best quarterback and running back in Trevor Lawrence and Travis Etienne every day in practice, so he’s a little empathetic toward opposing defensive coordinators.

“Absolutely. The margin for error is very slim,” Venable said of facing Lawrence and Etienne. “We don't ever go, 'Hey, let's take away Trevor today or let's take away Travis.' We try to do just do what we do and know that there is going to be plenty of bad that comes with the good. The precision, the explosiveness, the stress that they can create in both the run game and the throwing game is tremendous. To have empathy, I understand what preparing for them and what you can go through for sure. They're both playing the best football of their careers as well. Being on the same team, that's what you're excited about, too, is really seeing the confidence and cohesion of the unit and certainly them as players and leaders playing at a very, very high-level right now.”

From Elliott’s perspective, he’s not losing sleep every time someone doubts Clemson’s defense because of the players they lost from the previous season.

“We get that question every year. I don't feel sorry for those guys on defense because they just reload,” Elliott said of Clemson’s defense. “They reload and you knew with the young d-linemen from the day they showed up that they had something to them. On the backend, we knew we were going to be extremely long, extremely fast, extremely talented and it was just a matter of time of those guys getting experience. We've got veteran leadership in the linebacking corps with the exception of Mike Jones being a younger guy. You've got Baylon (Spector) and you've got (James) Skalski and you know what you're going to get in practice.

“It was just a matter of time of those guys getting into a routine of updating the plan each and every week, but you know what to expect…I think the leadership from the linebacking corps and some of those guys on the backend have really shown those young guys what it takes week-in and week-out to prepare and now that's allowing their talent to come to the surface now that they're figuring things out. I expect those guys to be just as good on defense as they've always been.”

As for Venables, Elliott said he’s a genius.

“You know what you're going to get from Brent. He's the most intense guy I've ever been around,” Elliott said of Venables. “In my opinion, he's a football genius. He's got plays and he can remember situations and scenarios in his head and he does an unbelievable job each week of diversifying his plan and putting his guys in a position to be successful.”

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