A year ago it became annoying, watching video of the Oklahoma defense as Brent Venables installed his scheme at Clemson.
“Everything was Oklahoma, Oklahoma,” junior tackle Josh Watson recalled Monday.
Even after they could see snippets of themselves at practice, it was evident to Watson they faced an uphill climb. His vision proved to be prophetic.
“I said at the beginning of the year it wouldn’t look as good in the beginning as it would at the end.”
One of the ventricles of the defensive heart, Watson totaled 54 tackles, most among the returning linemen, with 12 quarterback pressures and a blocked kick.
Clemson coaches believe the defensive front with Watson, Grady Jarrett, D.J. Reader and DeShawn Williams anchoring the middle should give the team an opportunity to start faster.
Holding LSU to 219 yards in the Chick-fil-A Bowl — 99 rushing — whet his anticipation of a second season in Venables’ scheme with 10 players who started at least five games. That includes Spencer Shuey and Stephone Anthony, who offer impressive depth at middle linebacker.
“We’re stacked, man,” said Anthony, a strapping 240-plus pounds. “We have a chance to be real good.”
Watson came back this spring with a fresh perspective and new strategy. During the week, he ratcheted his work in the weight room, and, on the weekend, he watched video of last season.
“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results,” he said.
“I wanted to do something different. I chose to use my weekends researching healthy things I could eat and studying film in order to do something different to take my game to another level to help the team.”
Watson said it was a small sacrifice for a bigger purpose.
“I’m older now. I’ve outgrown things,” he said. “Now I’m trying to help the younger guys, teach them how to take care of their bodies. Physically dragging them into the cold tub telling them it’s better to do it early in your career so you don’t have as many aches and pains as maybe I do or some of the other older guys.”
He also added 15 pounds of muscle, much of it evident across broad shoulders and upper arms.
“Around bowl season, I was around 285, kind of leaner,” he said. “Got back in the lab with coach (Joey) Batson (and) got a lot stronger.
“I put on a lot of size, a lot of muscle. I’m 300 pounds right now, carrying it pretty well, but I’m still getting adjusted to it,” he said. “When you put on 15 pounds you’ve got to get adjusted to it. It’s almost like wearing a weight vest out here.”
Another small sacrifice, he said, but it’s what’s required. He compared the two games last season in the Georgia Dome.
“Seems like we came full circle,” he said. “It’s interesting to see how far we came, and know we don’t want to go back to that point.”
Freshman defensive back Jadar Johnson suffered a dislocated elbow in practice last week and will be out until after spring break. Safety Travis Blanks suffered a head injury in practice on Monday and likely will be out until after spring break.