Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney met with the ACC media on Wednesday to discuss spring practice for the Tigers and the upcoming season.
Good to be with you guys again. Spring practice concluded for us a week ago Saturday, and I thought it was very
productive. We had most everybody out there this spring, which was a big difference for us from last spring. We’ve got 12 signees that will join us later on in the summer. But from that standpoint it was really good because we were able to create a lot of
competition, especially in the trenches on the offensive line and defensive line, which is the biggest question mark on our team right now. But our skill guys I think continued to improve on both sides of the ball, and again, I think that from a coaching standpoint, our coaches came away from it feeling like we were headed in the right direction, but the summer is going to be critical for us. The big thing for me is really just seeing leadership continue to emerge. We’re a big sophomore-freshman football team, so we’ve got a lot of sophomores that are going to play big roles on this team, and so developing some leadership
within that group I think is going to be critical to us moving through the summer. But anyway, overall good spring, got a lot
done, and looking forward to getting back together with these guys when camp arrives.
Q. In terms of what you learned in the spring, what did that tell you about your offensive line? You’ve got some holes to fill there, and also about the tight end position since that’s obviously a big hole there.
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I think Brandon Ford is going to be a guy that — right now he’s probably not a guy that’s on many people’s radar. He had a good year for us last year, made some big, big plays. Certainly he’s got some big shoes to fill in replacing an All-American in Dwayne Allen. But I really believe that by the end of the season, a lot of people are going to know who Brandon Ford
is. I just think that he is primed to have a great season for us. His role is obviously going to grow. And then behind him is really more the question mark for us. Sam Cooper is a guy that was banged up a little bit this spring but I think has the ability to help us, and some other guys. But Brandon will be the guy that if we’re going to be productive at tight end, he’s going to have to have
a great year. I think he will. Offensive line was a big concern going into spring. I’m more encouraged post spring just because of — going into it we were moving Tyler Shatley over from the D-tackle position, and that was just a great move for us. He was just a very natural guy and just brought a lot of leadership and toughness, and he’s a very smart football player. He and Dalton Freeman and Brandon Thomas are the three guys that I feel very, very good about. Kalon Davis is a guy that the arrow is going up beside his name. I thought he had a very good spring. He’s a 6’5″, 220-pound guard that can run, and he’s just made a decision to be a
good player. And then Giff Timothy at right tackle is how we came out of spring. He’s another one of those sophomores that really improved, and it just seems like he’s going into that red shirt sophomore year, that third year, and it’s kind of like the light is
just going on for him, and we were very encouraged with how he competed and his attention to detail, his dependability and how he showed up to work every single day this spring. I was excited about that. And then Joe Gore is another one that I
would throw in that mix. Coming out of spring I think we’ve got seven or eight guys that we could probably win with today, and I really believe there will be two or three more that will join that group by the time we get through the summer and another
fall camp. I’m encouraged with that group.
Q. Obviously people are going to be saying, oh, Clemson is the team to beat because they have all these skill guys back. Do you consider when you look at the offensive line and say however good we are on that line is going to determine if we’re as good this
coming fall as we were last fall?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, there’s no question, it’s not just the OL, it’s the DL. We have one senior offensive lineman and we have one senior defensive lineman. Experience is such a valuable thing, and we graduated a bunch of experience, and several of those guys are going to have a chance to play on the next level. So they weren’t just experienced, they were experienced, good players who had played a lot of football here. But there’s no doubt. I think that’s the case for the most part in college football. I mean,
you’ve got a good, solid offensive line, defensive offensive line and okay skill, you’ve got a chance to be successful. But just having great skill and not being productive in the trenches, that’s not a good combination. But I feel good about the guys that we
have on campus, the competition that we have going on. With the youth comes a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of competitive energy at practice every day, and that’s what I saw this spring. So I think we’ve got a lot of battles that will continue on through, but when it’s all said and done and the smoke clears, I think we’re going to have a pretty good group on both sides.
Q. For a first year starter, statistically at least, Tajh couldn’t have done much better last season. What are the more subtle steps he needs to take moving forward as he and the offense get more familiar with one another?
DABO SWINNEY: Yeah, well, he did do a lot of good things last year, and you never want to minimize that. But we’re trying to be great, and he wants to be great, and it’s a tough position to play. But there’s a lot of room for improvement for Tajh Boyd. Number one is ball security. He led our team in turnovers, and he did such a great job through those first eight games, and then all of a sudden he started doing some freelancing and playing outside the system and forcing things and just not doing as good a job of managing the game. So that’s his area that he has to improve, number one, is being a better game manager and
just moving the chains, taking what’s there, not forcing balls, and just keeping his team ahead of the sticks and not putting them in really difficult situations with some really critical, critical mistakes. And part of that is just experience and having played and been there now and knowledge of the system in year two and staying within the system. When we had some issues with Tajh last
year, a lot of it was where he would get outside of what we were asking him to do. So just being a little bit more disciplined as a quarterback is going to be huge. But I thought he took some steps this spring. Still not where we need him to be. We’ve really challenged him to go have a great summer and to come back and be ready to have a great junior season. But his ownership of the position has got to continue to improve for him to be a great player. He’s a very good player, but he has the
ability to be great, and us as coaches have to continue to challenge him.
Q. When you talk about searching for leaders amongst those sophomores who were freshmen last year, how much does it facilitate that process when a lot of these guys had a taste of the big time when you guys were 8 and 0, did a lot of special things?
DABO SWINNEY: Well, I think it’s important. And again, if you just look at our roster, we’re a big sophomore-freshman team. That’s just what we have. We’ve got 11 seniors on scholarship and we’ve got 13 juniors on scholarship, and two of them came here as walk-ons. The great majority of our roster is sophomores and freshmen. But we’ve got some really critical roles that are going to be filled by sophomores, and so we’ve got to have some of those guys really develop into leaders for us. You know, it’s a Sammy Watkins, it’s an Adam Humphries, it’s a Breeland, guys like that, those guys on the D-line, Grady Jarrett, DeShawn
Williams, Josh Watson, Corey Crawford, Tavaris Barnes, Stephone Anthony. We’ve got to have some of those guys that are big-time sophomore guys really develop into some dependable leaders for us. The best leadership comes from within, and
that’s a big — that to me is two of the most underrated things on a football team is chemistry and leadership. Those are just two things that you don’t measure, but they’re very real components to being successful. As I’m meeting with the team right now
and talking to everyone, that’s a big part of what we’re talking about. It’s out there this summer when no one is looking. It’s in the weight room, it’s on campus, at a party and somebody is doing something they’re not supposed to do. Do you lead when you have those opportunities? When you’re a young football team, you’ve got to have some of that step up. That’s something that hopefully we’ll see emerge and help us go and repeat. But certainly their experience that they got last year as freshmen is definitely going to help those guys in that area.
Q. I’m doing something on different rules regarding high school spring football practice from state to state, and I’m just wondering from your experience, do you notice any difference in the preparation level for true freshmen that come from states that have high school spring practice versus guys that come from states that don’t, or is there any difference?
DABO SWINNEY: I think so. I definitely think that in my years out on the road recruiting, there’s a difference in just development of guys. You know, when you can’t work with guys and practice this game full speed, it’s hard to develop, and if you’ve got your rival over here practicing full speed, then they’re going to be a little further ahead. It’s just that simple. Just like in college
football, if some teams are getting — are able to have 15 days of spring practice and other teams aren’t, well, there’s no question, the team that’s getting those days and that work, that’s development of your players. It’s fundamentals. It’s techniques. It’s knowledge. It’s understanding what you’re doing, growing as a player, gaining
confidence. So yeah, there’s definitely, in my opinion, a difference.