Standing in the west end zone of Memorial Stadium prior to Saturday’s Orange & White Spring Game were several members of the Tigers’ 2018 National Championship Team.
Dexter Lawrence, Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant and several others from the 2018 team gathered to watch a team Dabo Swinney says is the most tailor-made since they won it all three years ago. It was a nice reunion for Swinney and his former players, but it was also a reminder of what this season potentially could be.
With veteran defensive players like James Skalski, Nolan Turner and Xavier Thomas returning for one more season, to go along with young rising stars on offense like quarterback D.J. Uiagalelei, this potentially could be another national championship caliber team.
“This team is definitely further along than last year’s group. There is no doubt about that,” Swinney said following the Orange & White Game. “The ’18 team, those guys were just such a veteran group. But this will be most veteran team we have had since that ’18 team from a leadership standpoint.”
Swinney feels this year’s team is so far ahead of last year’s group because last year they were so young on the offensive line. And though they are still young, they feel they have more guys functionally and mentally ready to go compete and play winning football.
“It is the same thing on defense,” he said. “We are mature up front. There are more guys that have been through the battles. They have a few scares on them. We have all of those young guys that played in the secondary last year that had not really played much—[Lannden] Zanders, [Joseph] Charleston, Ray [Thornton] and Jalyn [Phillips]. All of those guys have been a little bit battle tested. Had some good experience, bad experience.
“So, I am excited about what we have a chance to put together.”
This spring Skalski and Turner did not do any live hitting, nor did defensive end K.J. Henry, linebacker Baylon Spector or left guard Matt Bockhorst on the offensive line.
“We have a lot of guys that are back,” Swinney said. “We really did not lose anybody defensively to the draft or anything like that, so most of these guys are back.”
What about the offense? Justyn Ross is likely back at wide receiver, so is E.J. Williams. Frank Ladson will be back from injury and Joseph Ngata and Ajou Ajou again showed what they are capable of doing in the spring game.
“Offensively, we are going to be better,” Swinney said. “The key, you saw our running backs. I am super excited about the potential we can be at running back. But the key is getting the functional depth in that offensive line the way it needs to be.
“We are well on our way to that.”
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