Entering spring practice, the thing Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney was most eager to see is how the team’s 15 early enrollees would fare in their first taste of college football after arriving on campus in January, and how much the coaches could develop them, knowing the Tigers will need a number of them to be ready to play as true freshmen this season.
“That was probably the biggest thing,” Swinney said recently, “because I know there’s several of those guys that we were going to have to count on, and how far could we get those guys, where are they mentally … because you don’t ever know.”
The list of Clemson’s midyear enrollees includes quarterback DJ Uiagalelei, defensive linemen Bryan Bresee, Demonte Capehart and Myles Murphy, wide receiver E.J. Williams, tight end Sage Ennis, linebackers Sergio Allen, Trenton Simpson and Kevin Swint, safeties R.J. Mickens and Tyler Venables, cornerback Fred Davis and offensive linemen Mitchell Mayes, Paul Tchio and Bryn Tucker.
The group comprised the majority of Clemson’s 2020 signing class, which finished the cycle ranked among the top three classes nationally by all the major recruiting services. Swinney knew what the Tigers were getting going into spring practice as far as their natural ability but didn’t know how quickly they would be able to acclimate themselves to a new environment with a different level of competition.
“These guys are obviously incredibly talented football players in high school, but you don’t ever really know where they are until you start coaching them as far as mental standpoint, how they learn, how they’re going to absorb things, can they transition it from the meeting room to the practice field, how would they adapt to the speed and physicality of the game,” Swinney said. “Everybody has a different process. So, that was probably the biggest thing for me.”
The spring was especially important for the newcomers on the O-line — Mayes, Tchio and Tucker — who were thrown into the fire right away.
“Offensive line wise, we were going to have to throw some freshmen out there in that second and third group right out of the gate and really they were going to be exposed pretty quick,” Swinney said. “So how far we could get those guys, but not just the OL, all those 15 midyears.”
While there is always ups and downs with freshmen, and the 15 midyears still have a lot of learning and developing to do, Swinney was pleased with what he saw from them this spring and the progress they made throughout the nine practices Clemson was able to get in.
“It’s a really, really good group,” he said.
“It’s just a good-looking young group of talent that just got here that I think we hit on all of them. They’ve all got a ways to go to be functional players, but we’re off to a good start with that group.”
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