By Ashley Denny.
CLEMSON, SC- After two solid weeks of practice, Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney is proud of his team and how far they’ve come throughout fall camp. Although they’ve had to deal with some minor injuries and a stomach bug that left many of the players ill, Swinney feels encouraged going into Saturday’s scrimmage.
“Today completed two weeks for us,” Swinney said. “And I’m proud of how the team has worked. The majority of the team has competed very well. There were a few guys that hit a wall and we had to pull them through the knothole a little bit but it’s been a good two weeks we got a lot done.”
As for the defense, which struggled in Wednesday’s scrimmage, Swinney was pleased with how they responded to his challenge in today’s practice.
“The defense came back strong today,” Swinney said. “We didn’t do a lot of competitive stuff today but tomorrow I’d be surprised if they don’t play a bit better tomorrow. We still have a few guys dinged up but I’m pretty sure we’ll have most hands on board tomorrow.”
As for the competition surrounding starting jobs, Swinney feels comfortable with the starters he has set now; however he believes that jobs are always open.
“Starting jobs are always open, guys have to come out every day and perform,” Swinney said. “I think our first group right now is pretty set, we have a lot of second team jobs that are pretty open. We’ve got some guys that we’ll have to continue to let them play it out for those spots, for example the battle at defensive line, we’ve just got to let them play it out. Most of the battle is with our depth.”
If Clemson played today, Swinney was confident that Nuke Hopkins, Jaron Brown and Sammy Watkins would be the starting receivers however he has been very pleased with the talented depth at that position.
“Ya’ll will see as you see us play, we’ve got some pretty good depth at receiver,” Swinney said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that are going to be able to play; we’re going to have to have a good solid rotation, quality depth. Charone Peake is really starting to come on, he and Jaron are working at the same position. Marquan Jones has been working all three spots; he’s doing exactly what we need from him, a veteran guy, knows a lot of ball and will be able to help us out by being versatile. “
How far into fall camp did Swinney realize that highly touted freshman Sammy Watkins would be a starter for the Tigers?
“It didn’t take too long,” Swinney said. “I’d say I knew after the third or fourth practice. He’s a special talent, he’s got the great intangibles to go along with talent, work ethic, toughness, attention to detail, and he makes very few mistakes. If you pick up his notebook, he’s got pages of notes in his notebook and goes home and studies it. He’s very focused and always asking questions. Charone is like that as well. I’m just very excited with the future that we have at that position and it will be exciting to see those young guys play this year.”
As for the competition at cornerback, Swinney believes both Xavier Brewer and Coty Sensabaugh have both been very solid so far this fall.
“Both of them have done a great job this fall,” Swinney said. “I’m most pleased with Coty, he was one of those guys that we challenged in the spring and since then he’s been dialed in, improved greatly at being physical, he can run, has good ball skills, he’s just really put it together and is very focused at having a great season.”
When he looks back on last year, Swinney believes this year to be different because of the talent he has to work with.
“Plays work a lot better when you’ve got guys that execute plays,” Swinney said. “We’re just a more talented offense. We’re young but we’ve got more speed, athleticism, and we’ve got a system that’s exciting. We’re doing things that I’ve really wanted to do. Its fun, the players have had fun with it, there’s a lot of enthusiasm at practice every day and our quarterback is just a really great leader. He’s just full speed ahead all day every day in every aspect. We’re just in a good spot right now, after two weeks of camp and a whole spring practice, we’re starting to get ourselves ready to go and play an opponent. I like where we are as a team right now, I’m thinking we’ll be a team that’s going to be a work in progress early and hopefully we can catch a break this year, avoid some major injuries. But we’ve got more talent than we probably had here in a while, but we’ve got a lot of young talent that are going to have to help us in a lot of different spots.”