By Will Vandervort.
Sometimes things don’t go like you want them to, especially when you are working with 15 true freshmen in spring practice.
When the Tigers began working in full pads for the first time this spring, head coach Dabo Swinney, offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell and co-offensive coordinators Jeff Scott and Tony Elliott had to be a little more patient that they normally are.
Usually, the Clemson coaches will run somewhere between 20 or 22 five-minute periods for a practice and the tempo of practice is run like a smooth running engine. Very seldom do they stop as they move in and out of drills like clockwork.
But when the Tigers began running a drill they call “wind mill” in the third practice of the spring they had to slow things down just a bit. It’s an offensive line drill, one true freshmen Mitch Hyatt, Jake Fruhmorgen, Noah Green and Zach Giella where not prepared to do.
“We have so many young guys it took us a little while to get it organized,” Swinney said. “Some of those guys have never done it, but it was good because we saw some of those guys get better.”
And getting his freshmen better, especially, along the offensive line is a priority for the Tigers this spring. Swinney is hoping at least two or maybe all four of those freshmen offensive linemen will be able to help the team this fall. The offensive line, especially with its depth issues, has been a consistent problem for Clemson the last several years.
Swinney has practice set up where three groups all spring, every period are getting reps. In a lot of places first and second team are getting the majority of the reps, but every once in a while they will throw in a third group just to make sure everyone is getting practice time.
“Because we are committed to developing all those young guys, they are going to get a lot of reps,” Scott said. “You can already see that these guys are talented and it is exciting as a coach, but at the same time there is a process they have to go through no matter how talented you are. Some guys go through it faster than others, but everyone has to go through it.
“There is learning. There is making mistakes. There is learning from it. All of those types of things. Some guys can make it through that process quicker than others, but I would not be surprised at all if several of those guys were able to help us next year.”
Since he has taken over as head coach, Swinney has not been afraid to play a true freshman if they are ready to help the team. In 2010, DeAndre Hopkins became a starter at wide receiver and set the freshmen record for yards and catches that year. The very next year, Sammy Watkins started at wide receiver and shattered Hopkins’ marks.
Other true freshmen like Adam Humphries, Charone Peake and Martavis Bryant also played significantly as did linebacker Stephone Anthony on defense in 2011.
In 2013, safety Jayron Kearse made a big splash on the defensive side of the ball, while last year Deshaun Watson took over at quarterback and wide receiver Artavis Scott emerged as Clemson’s big play threat.
“Coach Swinney has proven, not matter what position, that if a freshman can help us, he is going to play and help us,” Scott said. “I think all of those guys will have an opportunity. Being here in the spring and having all summer and all fall camp, those guys will put themselves in a position that if they are ready, they will be able to help us.”