As second-ranked Clemson draws a day closer to opening the 2018 football season, Dabo Swinney becomes a little more excited.
The head coach can’t wait to see how his offense performs when the Tigers kick off the season Saturday at 12:20 p.m., against the Furman Paladins at Death Valley in Clemson.
“I’m just really impressed with where we are. We are just so much better,” he said.
Last year was a down year, in terms of Clemson’s offensive standards. Though the Tigers still led the nation in the total number of plays, they ranked just third in the Atlantic Coast Conference in points per game (33.6) and fifth in total offense (429.6). Both numbers were significantly down from the year before.
There are three positions, based on experience, where Swinney feels the team will be so much better than it was last year … running back, tight end and wide receiver.
“It’s not even in the same hemisphere as we were this time last year…not even close,” he said.
The Tigers still have some new guys at wide receiver in Justyn Ross and Derion Kendrick, but Ross came into camp physically stronger than Tee Higgins was at this time last year and Kendrick will head into the first week healthy, whereas Amari Rodgers began last season banged up.
“If you really think about it Deon (Cain) and Ray-Ray (McCloud) were really first-time starters,” Swinney said. (Diondre) Overton hadn’t played hardly. Cornell (Powell) hadn’t played hardly. Amari was brand new, Tee was brand new and weak and we really had so much to teach.”
Swinney went on to explain the tight end position got better with the return of Garrett Williams, who he thinks will have a great year. Richard, who could miss Saturday’s game with a knee injury, started all 14 games in 2017 and is a year older and wiser. Cannon Smith is another veteran player who brings a lot of playing experience to the table, while J.C. Chalk is a year older, too.
Then there is Braden Galloway, though raw and inexperienced, all the offensive coaches are excited about what he can do as he brings a whole different element to the position.
At running back, Travis Etienne is a whole lot stronger and understands the position better. Adam Choice is the veteran, who has completely regained his confidence, and is running faster and harder than he ever has.
Though he is coming off that late summer procedure on his knee, Feaster was improving by the end of fall camp and the coaches feel he will have another good year and can be even more explosive after dropping 15 pounds in the off-season.
Then there is Lyn-J Dixon, the star of fall camp. The coaches feel he is ahead of where Etienne was this time last year going into the first game.
“We are on a whole other level this year,” Swinney said.