By Ashley Denny.
CLEMSON, SC- Clemson Head Coach Dabo Swinney was in a very chipper mood Thursday evening after the Tigers’ finished their Thursday evening practice. Why? Well I think the fact that his team is the healthiest it’s been since the beginning of camp has a little something to do with it, and also the fact that his players have added a spring to their step after resting during their bye week last weekend.
“Practice was great tonight,” Swinney said. “We’ve had a good two weeks, accomplished all of our goals, we’re a healthy team going into this weekend, and we’re ready to play. We’ve got 42 hours until game time so luckily we don’t have to wait too much longer, just talked to the guys about really visualizing themselves performing well, performance starts in your head. They’re just ready to go out there, cut loose and have some fun.”
Injury-wise, Swinney is very encouraged, as even Clemson’s kick-off specialist Spencer Benton looks promising for Saturday against Wake Forest, after Swinney had him practice his tackling on dummies this week in practice.
“We have everyone healthy and even Benton is a possibility,” Swinney said. “I’ve been pretty pleased with him, he pushed himself, went the extra mile to show me that he was ready to tackle someone. He tackled some dummies to the ground, so there’s a chance that we’ll get him in there Saturday. Playing with him as your kicker is like playing with 12 because of his tackling skills, most kickers don’t count because they’re not used to tackling, but he counts and then some. We only had one kick return for a touchdown this season on us since I’ve been the head coach anyways, and he wasn’t in there. He’s saved us a couple of times so it’s going to be great to have him back whether it be against Wake or NC State.”
Andre Ellington, Clemson’s starting running back was another player who benefited from the bye week, as he’s dealing with an ankle injury. However, Swinney has seen him perform well this week in practice and is confident that he’ll continue to have his burst on Saturday.
“He looks great,” Swinney said. “He’s ready to go and excited about playing and I’m excited about him playing. We’re not very good when he’s not out there. I’m real happy to have him back and we’re going to have to be able to run the football on these guys.”
Rashard Hall, another injured Tiger who injured his knee earlier this season but is waiting until after the season ends to have surgery on it, is making the best of it according to Swinney.
“I really appreciate his unselfishness and his commitment to his team,” Swinney said. “The brace he wears takes pressure off of the spot in his knee, and he’s going to have to have surgery after the season ends, but he really wanted to keep playing and has done a good job for us. Obviously he’s not 100% but he’s still a good player for us and I appreciate his commitment.”
Xavier Brewer will be helping Hall and Jonathan Meeks out at the safety position some this weekend according to Swinney.
“He’s going to continue to be worked in,” Swinney said. “Some of it depends on our opponent and how they’re going to play because a lot of times he ends up as a cover guy at strong safety for us. It adds a little more depth for us; we’re trying to get the best guys out there. Breeland is continuing to come along, so it gives us a few more options. Brewer is a smart guy, good tackler, and often times is in coverage.”
Swinney said on Tuesday at his press conference that the team came to practice Monday with a spring in their step, and that holds true after tonight’s practice as well.
“That’s just what a break will do for you,” Swinney said. “Three days of rest for those guys went a long way. It wasn’t a physical practice on Monday, we went full pads on Tuesday but the demeanor and energy, the contact, everything had more pop to it this week.”
Looking long term, Swinney sees the hurry up, no huddle offense being the identity of Clemson’s offense.
“This is our system, it’s what we’re doing,” Swinney said. “Things come and go and change, 10 years from now this may not be our system but this is what I wanted to do since I got the job, it’s just been a process to get tot his point. When I sat down to map out the direction, there wasn’t a question in what we were going to do; the question was who I wanted to hire to come in here to do it. This is who we are.”
As for the events taking place at Penn State this week, Swinney was deeply saddened to hear about it all.
“You have to be living on Mars in this business to not know what’s going on there, it’s been breathtaking, sad beyond words,” Swinney said. “I followed Penn State for a long time, especially with my background at Alabama since we had a lot of games against those guys. I can remember in 1990, my sophomore year we played them and I can remember it like it was yesterday because I just stood there and was like Golly that’s Joe Paterno, he looked like my granddad then and that was 20 years ago. I spoke to the team about it actually, used it as an opportunity to coach a little bit. It doesn’t matter who you are, what position you’re in, we don’t know all of the facts but I think it’s real obvious that there were a lot of things not done right. Who is at fault and to what extent, who knows but in the end of the day I told the players that there are consequences for your decisions. Your decisions impact many things, whether you’re a coach or player and I just really am disgusted by the allegations, I’ve got three boys and I can’t even go there. It’s hard for me to understand how it got tot his point, because it seems to me if one or more person just did what was right, it never would have gotten to this. My thoughts and prayers are with the families and those young people involved.”