Did you realize the football team you saw on the field this past Saturday in the Orange & White Game is pretty much the same team you will see on the field when the Tigers open up the 2017 season on Sept. 2 against Kent State?
Just 10 players from Clemson’s 2017 recruiting class are not on campus yet, which means the Tigers were playing with almost a full deck the entire spring.
“We had a lot of numbers,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said.
And because of that, the Tigers have a lot of depth as it gets ready to defend its national championship. Swinney always likes to say “the strength is in the numbers” and right now the Tigers have one of the deepest rosters in the country.
Clemson returns four starters on the offensive line, plus backups that got quality playing time last year as true freshmen. On the defensive line, all but one starter returns and the guys behind them could start just about anywhere. The Tigers are so stacked at wide receiver and tight end, losing players like Mike Williams, Artavis Scott and Jordan Leggett is not nearly the concern most teams have when losing quality players such as that.
Granted the quarterback position will see a drop off in talent. Let’s face it a Deshaun Watson does not just come around every day. However, the four guys competing for the job this year could start for other ACC programs and some in the SEC as well.
The secondary is stacked with talent and the same can be said at linebacker.
“The main thing is not just depth, but it is functional depth,” Swinney said. “It is one thing to have a bunch of depth, but you can have a bunch of depth with guys that don’t know what they are doing. But we have a lot of functional players and there is not a lot of drop off in some areas. That is what I’m excited about.
“I think we will be a team whose strength will be in its numbers. As we go through the summer and the fall, you will see guys that no one is really talking about right now, but we know and we think they are ready to go play. There will be a lot of new faces getting some opportunities in the fall.”
This isn’t something that has just started at Clemson. Swinney and his coaching staff have been building this kind of competitive depth for years. It is one reason why the Clemson football program is one of just two programs to win at least 70 games the last six seasons, and why it is only one of two programs to record six straight 10-win seasons. The other program is Alabama.
Rarely does a Clemson player get in trouble off the field, and when the program does have the occasional transfer, the young man already has his degree from Clemson University.
“I think that is the type of cultural that we have,” Swinney said. “We have attrition from time-to-time. There is not a lot, but even the guys who leave graduate. We had four juniors come out early and they all got their degree. We had a couple of guys transfer, but they all got there degree. That is what I always tell them. It is until graduation do us part. My main objective is to see these guys get their degree.
“So that is the culture that we have here. These guys have enjoyed their experience. I like to think we have created a good experience for them. We try to make the right decisions for the guys that come in on the front end. In order to sustain that you have to continue to make good decisions on who you recruit and then have a lot of discipline and accountability in the program every single day.”