I co-hosted more than three hours of radio live from The Reserve at Lake Keowee yesterday as the Dabo Swinney Media Golf Outing signaled the approach of a new college football season. We interviewed as many coaches as we possibly could, and with apologies to those we missed—Marion Hobby, Danny Pearman, and Mike Reed—the assistants we did get to speak with offered some wonderful insight into where the Clemson football program is at the present time.
Here is a list of things I found interesting or particularly insightful during those interviews, and during the day in general:
- The Reserve is simply one of the finest pieces of property in the United States. Some of the views are so magnificent that you can’t adequately describe them. It is truly a privilege to be able to play that golf course and ride around that development once a year.
- If I had to describe the mood of the day in one word, it would be “hopeful”. While the negative choices of a few players grabbed the headlines in the offseason, it was clear no one on the staff was dwelling on them. One quote from Swinney that caught my attention: “Today isn’t about the two or three guys that didn’t have a good summer. Today is about the guys that did.”
- Swinney did tell us that Ammon Lakip would not be with the team until the start of classes in mid-August, and even then, he will still face harsh punishment stemming from a June arrest for DUI and simple cocaine possession. Swinney made it clear he “never had a problem with Ammon” several times during multiple interviews for which I was present yesterday, and it seems that his status as a first offender could get him back onto the field. Personally, I got the sense that a lengthy suspension is in order when he returns.
- Brent Venables is just a fiery dude. His intensity is made abundantly clear in a matter of moments, even in the most innocuous of conversations, and he was intense about his defense. Venables challenged and downright questioned the leadership capabilities of a younger unit that will take over the reins from the nation’s top defense from a year ago. Venables expressed a bit of concern that some of his younger players don’t exhibit some of the intangible characteristics that made the leadership on last year’s team so great. He wants his teams to practice “compliance without complaint” and said he still sees too many guys unwilling to do the little things to be great.
- That’s not to say Venables doesn’t think his unit will be fantastic in 2015. One guy he called out specifically was Ben Boulware, who he commented “has answered the bell”. It’s clear Venables sees some of himself in Boulware, who he expects to assume much of the leadership in the linebacking corps. There might appear to be some causes for concern, but Venables doesn’t have any, and that speaks volumes about where Boulware is in his mind given the nature of his other comments.
- It’s abundantly clear that no one is remotely concerned about left tackle. Mitch Hyatt’s first impression has been a good one, and Robbie Caldwell told us he has no problems whatsoever with the true freshman being the starter on day one. He said not to be chained to the depth chart because of the number of guys listed inside that can also play tackle in a pinch. Our conversations with him are also refreshing because of his easy-going demeanor.
- Three years ago, as a college student, I sat in a one-on-one interview with Dan Brooks. We talked about the transition from Jarvis Jenkins and Brandon Thompson—both of whom were drafted into the NFL—to some young, unproven guys at defensive tackle. I asked him if this was a similar situation yesterday, and even though there were three players who left to seek NFL employment from his group, Brooks says he feels better about the talent and depth now than he did back when Grady Jarrett and Deshawn Williams were unknown commodities.
- Much has been discussed about the potential for a wildcat package to be installed in the offense to both utilize the strengths of some players—ahem, Kelly Bryant—and to take some of the running load out of Deshaun Watson’s hands. Brandon Streeter told us he has always had a wildcat package in his offenses, and he said using one or not is about two factors: how much you want to run the starter and who your backup is. He seems supremely confident in Nick Schuessler, to the point that he seemed fairly certain both Bryant and Tucker Israel would be redshirted this season.
- One of the biggest questions I have at this point concerns the role of Artavis Scott. Last season, Scott was used almost exclusively in the screen game in several contests. When he got a chance to showcase his downfield receiving skills, people wondered when his role would expand. When I asked Jeff Scott about this, he put the onus on the sophomore himself. He said they challenged Artavis to diversify his game this offseason, which runs contrary to the belief that his usage in the screen game was a product of offensive need rather than efficiently tapping into his ability. In other words, that choice might be more about Artavis and less about his coaching.
- Tony Elliott said Wayne Gallman will definitely be the starting tailback when camp opens up, but he also said the most complete running back will win the job outright. Eleven months ago, he called Zac Brooks the most complete back in the program, and when I reminded him of that, he smiled from ear to ear. Based on his subsequent appraisal of Brooks’ rehab and summer progress, I’d be shocked if Brooks didn’t have a starring role in the backfield in 2015.