The dual-threat quarterback quandary

Brent Venables

CLEMSON - Brent Venables and Kevin Steele have plenty in common -- from the sharp attention to detail and preparation to the soul cutting death stare that lasts for days.

There is, however, one major difference between Clemson's last two defensive coordinators.

Steele was a no bones about it press-man coverage kind of guy. Venables prefers his defenses to play, primarily, zone coverage.

One philosophy isn't necessarily better than the other -- each has its own pros and cons.

Looking to transition Clemson's defense into a more zone principled attack, head coach Dabo Swinney parted ways with Steele after a three year relationship. During that time, one of the biggest knocks against Steele's defenses was the lack of success against dual-threat quarterbacks.

Over the previous three seasons, those kinds of quarterbacks -- like South Carolina's Connor Shaw -- would usually carve up Clemson.

Was the marriage to press-man the biggest issue?

"When you're in man-to-man, you have less eyes on the quarterback," Venables said.

But that's not to say zone is head and shoulders better than man when scheming up a way to defend against a guy who can throw while on the move.

"You're containing him in your rush lanes and covering the right people with good coverage and technique, it's not as hard to defend," Venables said, referring to man coverage. "When one of those things breaks down in the pocket and he gets outside -- those types of things -- that's when bad things can happen, so you do have more eyes on him in zone coverage."

Regardless of the coverage, when a quarterback can throw on the move, it's far from easy to defend.

"Some quarterbacks have that tunnel vision and they start to panic. You can really tee off on him," Venables said. "That's not the case [with Shaw]. You have to really maintain discipline. He can create a lot of plays with his legs because he's got great vision down the field."

E.J. Manuel, who rushed for 102 yards and passed for 380 yards and two scores against Clemson earlier this season, is similar to Shaw in that regard.

The performance by Manuel mirrored some of the showings by dual-threat quarterbacks during the 2009, 10 and 11 seasons.

"The plan we used against Manuel, we don't want to use that one this week," Venables said.

According to Venables, the struggles aren't limited to Clemson.

"It's obvious," he said. "You just look around college football and the NFL, guys that aren't one-dimensional…when guys can do both, it makes it much more difficult. It's much more stressful in all facets of your defense.

"It makes things a little more complicated. They just extend plays; can create big plays if you don't maintain discipline, whether it's up front in your rush lanes or discipline in the backend trying to do too much."

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