By Hale McGranahan.
Dabo Swinney already answered the question once.
With all the departures, can you sustain the success?
The first time around, it was in regard to the mass exodus of offensive talent to the NFL, guys like DeAndre Hopkins, Dwayne Allen and Andre Ellington with Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant, Brandon Thomas and Tajh Boyd soon to follow.
This season, Clemson has senior starters on every layer of the nation’s top-ranked defense, many of whom will play on Sundays.
Grady Jarrett, DeShawn Williams and Josh Watson are the tackles; Corey Crawford and Tavaris Barnes are the senior ends. There’s also a pair of seniors at linebacker: Stephone Anthony and Tony Steward. In the secondary there are three: cornerbacks Garry Peters and Martin Jenkins and safety Robert Smith.
On Tuesday, Swinney was asked about the challenge of replacing those 10 guys.
“I mean, that’s why you recruit. Everybody loses seniors,” Swinney said. “Not going to close up shop. I mean, we’ve got a bunch of good players back. Shaq Lawson’s a pretty good player. He’ll be back. And D.J. Reader, and Carlos Watkins, and Kevin Dodd, and Martin Aiken, and (Scott) Pagano. We’ve got some good players. We’ve just got to grow some guys up.
“That’s why you recruit. We’ve got a great recruiting class coming in here. We’re going to be good with our front line. We won’t have what we have this year. We’ve got a lot of talent, depth and experience, so we won’t have quite the same amount of experience. But, I think, when it’s all said and done, we’ll have good depth, we’ll have good talent, but we’ll have some youth that has to grow up.
“We’ve got good linebackers coming back in Ben (Boulware) and Kellen (Jones), and you’re all going to love Korie Rogers and Kendall Joseph and Chris Register. Y’all are going to love those guys. We have a couple guys coming in mid-year: Jalen Williams and Chad Smith. They’re going to be joining us here in a few weeks. We’ve got a lot of secondary guys back.”
Jadar Johnson and T.J. Green, two of the candidates to replace Smith, have gotten plenty of meaningful snaps this season.
“They’re on their way to being great players,” Swinney said. “We’ve got a couple of freshmen corners that haven’t had a lot of opportunity yet that have really bright futures. Garry Peters will be moving on. So is Martin, we’re going to lose Martin. We all know Martin’s hadn’t been on the field a lot anyway with injuries.
“So, absolutely, we’re built as a program to make a run, to be very consistent. I said that a few years ago. That’s kind of what we’ve done. It’s been a little bit of a transition year for us offensively, but we still had a good year and got a chance to have a great year if we can finish this thing the right way.”
Contributing to that transition on the offensive side of the ball has been the uncertainty at running back.
“I know it’s been a hodgepodge this year. Zac Brooks (is) coming back. Tyshon (Dye) and (Wayne) Gallman, those two guys right there are going to be really special to watch them grow up,” Swinney said. “I see our running back situation — it’s kind of where of we were on the DL a few years ago when everybody was talking about we didn’t have any DL, and Grady and all them guys were freshmen and sophomores. Now, they’re full grown men. I kind of see the same thing in our running backs.
“I think over the next couple years we have a chance to become special at that position. With Tyshon, and Gallman, and getting Zac Brooks back. Zac was able to redshirt. C.J. Fuller — C.J. Fuller is going to be a heck of a player, nobody ever even talks about him. I see him out on the practice field every day. He’s going to be a factor. Obviously, Adam Choice, who became a starter for us this year.
“So we’ve got some interesting pieces that we just haven’t had the last couple of years that are on board, they’re in the fold, but I’m excited about the future at that position. We’ve got Jae’lon Oglesby, who is coming in to be a dynamic playmaker for us. He’ll start in January as well, so it’s a good group. C.J. Davidson’s got another year. We’ve got some good people that are going to turn into really good backs.”