Dabo Swinney was not shocked to see his defense was mentally ready to play as Clemson held its first scrimmage of the spring on Wednesday inside the Poe Indoor Practice Facility.
“We have a lot of guys over there that we think are going to be really good functional players for us,” Swinney said after the 99-play scrimmage. “I thought they had great energy from the get go.”
The Clemson defense had an interception, forced a fumble, was very active and tackled well.
“I thought the defense kind of won the day from a scrimmage standpoint, if I had to raise somebody’s hand up,” Swinney said.
But it was not just the defense that made some plays. The offense had its moments, too. Swinney said they ran the football well at times and he thought running backs Adam Choice, Tavien Feaster and C.J. Fuller did some good things.
Clemson’s four quarterbacks, Kelly Bryant, Zerrick Cooper, Hunter Johnson and Tucker Israel also made some plays.
“We did a few things in the passing game, but we are nowhere near the consistency that we need,” Swinney said. “The one positive offensively is that we did not have a lot of procedural bologna repping that many people.”
Swinney said the execution was not what it needed to be as they had three drops to go along with the two turnovers.
“When you have so many plays, and we had to be up to 100 plays, there is always good and bad, and we scrimmaged everybody,” Swinney said. “I’m anxious to watch the tape.”
With the graduation of quarterback Deshaun Watson, much of the attention on Wednesday was on the quarterback position. Bryant, a junior, has been running the number-one offense so far this spring and according to Swinney had a solid scrimmage, completing 7-of-13 passes for 91 yards.
Bryant completed 4-of-5 passes, including a 39-yarder to Hunter Renfrow, on a late touchdown drive against the number-one defense. Freshman Zerrick Cooper completed 4-of-8 passes and had a 13-yard touchdown run.
“(Bryant) has not done anything to lose the job,” Swinney said. “He has been very consistent. He started off slow today, but he finished strong. He has been really consistent.”
Swinney and co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said they will continue to evaluate all the quarterbacks in all phases of the game. That includes the running game. Even though the defense cannot tackle the quarterback they can still evaluate their decision making in the running game.
Renfrow led the receivers with four catches for 57 yards, while Deon Cain had four catches for 33 yards. Senior D.J. Greenlee led the tight ends with a pair of catches for 30 yards. Choice had 31 yards rushing, while Feaster added 30. Fuller scored a rushing touchdown.
Linebacker Tre Lamar and Shaq Smith led the defense with seven tackles apiece. Defensive end Clelin Ferrell added six. Nyles Pinckney had three sacks, while wearing his new No. 44 jersey. Christian Wilkins had a pair of tackles for loss, as did Lamar.
Linebacker Dorian O’Daniel had an interception, a sack and four tackles.
“Isaiah Simmons set the tone for the day on the opening kickoff,” Swinney said. “It was a big hit. He set the tone for the defense.”
The Tigers will take the next 10 days off from practice before resuming workouts on March 27. Clemson’s Spring Game is April 8 at Memorial Stadium.
Notes: Clemson ran 99 plays in its scrimmage, ironically, the same number of plays the Clemson offense had in its National Championship win over Alabama on Jan. 9….The Clemson team spent an hour with the Clemson Life Program students after practice and engaged in various athletic competitions, including field goal kicking…Jalen Williams, Kendall Joseph, Mitch Hyatt, and Taylor Hearn were among the players who missed the scrimmage due to injury….they are expected to return to practice after spring break….there were only five total penalties in the scrimmage for 25 yards, two by the offense and three by the defense….Clemson also spent time on all phases of special teams over the course of the scrimmage….Pro Day on Thursday is expected to attract over 100 NFL scouts, coaches and general managers, while over 50 media will be in attendance, including live reports from ESPN and the NFL Network.