With the issues Clemson has at tight end right now, getting freshman Jaelyn Lay up to speed is of the utmost importance.
The Tigers have to replace Milan Richard and Cannon Smith, who have exhausted their eligibility. Garrett Williams is on the sideline coaching, while he contemplates a possible career in the military and sophomore Braden Galloway’s eligibility this season is up in the air while his appeal for a failed drug test and a one-year suspension is going through the NCAA’s appeal process.
At the moment, that leaves Clemson with redshirt junior J.C. Chalk as the lone tight end coming back with experience. So, getting Lay ready for the season has become a priority.
So, as Swinney said last Friday, they are dropping him in the grease. And, as can be expected, he is struggling at times, but the true freshman is starting to come around.
“He looked like a fish out of water the first few days, but the last couple of practices, I have not noticed him as much, which is good,” Swinney said. “It has slowed down a little bit for him. As a result, he is catching the ball better. He is breathing. His breathing has slowed down a little.”
Swinney said the freshman from Atlanta was hyperventilating at times in the first couple of practices because everything was moving so fast.
“He is a pleaser. He wants to please,” the Clemson coach said, “and he’s got it, like he knows it. He can draw it on the board, and he can tell you, then all of sudden you get out there and it is going (fast). Then you panic. Then everybody is yelling, Coach (Danny) Pearman is yelling at you and then it is all downhill.
“That is kind of where they are. You’re just kind of dropping them in the grease. The last couple of practices, he has smoothed out a little bit, but make no mistake he is going to be something special.”
This spring, the Tigers have a program record 17 early enrollees going through spring drills. Swinney said the experience they are getting this spring is so important to their overall progression and growth as players.
“That is why these guys come early, to try to get that behind them,” he said.” They will go back through this stuff again in the summer and by the time they get to fall camp it will be their third time getting installation.
“If they put the work in, what we call transformation, from spring to August, they will be better.”
And that includes Lay, who the coaching staff feels has a chance to be a pretty special player during his career at Clemson.
In high school, Lay was ranked as one of the top tight ends in the country. He was ranked fourth nationally by ESPN at his position and No. 5 by rivals. At 6-foot-6, the 220-pound freshman is the tallest tight end in Clemson history.
“I do not have any doubt that he will make big strides. Physically, he is definitely gifted,” Swinney said.
The Tigers will continue spring workouts this afternoon at the Poe Indoor Practice Facility in Clemson.