Clemson’s first seven practices were heavy on installation and situational work. As the Tigers enter the second week of preseason camp, the proverbial bullets are about to start flying.
Head coach Dabo Swinney will get his first real look at this year’s version of the Tigers on Saturday when Clemson returns to Memorial Stadium for its first scrimmage of camp. With the NCAA scaling back on the number of scrimmages teams are allowed (from three and a half to two), the first one will be even more important than usual from an evaluation standpoint for everybody involved.
It will come on the Tigers’ third day of full pads after making the move from shells (helmets and shoulder pads) Thursday.
“It’s really that first live day, and you’re trying to take everything you’re working on for (seven) practices and (say), ‘OK let’s see what all has stuck,’” Swinney said. “And see what else we’ve got to go back over.
“Also challenging the coaches. It’s a scrimmage. When we get out there on Saturday, it’s not scripted. So you have to respond and react to the situation. I will create some things, and that’s a way to kind of challenge the staff from a preparation standpoint.”
Plenty of eyes will be on the quarterbacks. D.J. Uiagalelei is preparing for his second season as the starter looking for a bounceback year after a less-than-stellar sophomore campaign. The addition of five-star signee Cade Klubnik, whom Swinney has said will have an opportunity to play, makes the situation more interesting.
Uiagalalelei said he’s worked to improve some of the mechanical issues, including a strong base from which to throw, that led to some of his inaccuracies last season. He’s also dropped roughly 30 pounds since last season, which he said has him feeling more mobile and agile in the pocket.
Exactly who all he will have to throw to is unclear with the receiver position already being bit by the injury bug. Beaux Collins (undisclosed) was in street clothes for the second straight day Friday while fellow receiver E.J. Williams wore a yellow no-contact jersey as he deals with an undisclosed injury. Troy Stellato, who was limited early in camp with a strained hamstring, was carted off the field at the end of practice.
But there’s one specific aspect to his performance that Uiagalelei wants to achieve in the scrimmage in order to walk away feeling good about it.
“Just be consistent,” Uiagalelei said. “Work on the down and distance. And then not making the mistakes. Making the easy plays. Making the layups. I think that’s the big thing. You come out there in a scrimmage, and you don’t have to do too much. I think the main thing as an offense is if we get all 11 guys to do their job, then we’ll just roll down the field and be 100% perfect.”
Swinney said he’s eager to see how the Tigers hold up in the trenches, where there have been some not-so-expected developments early in camp.
The depth and talent of Clemson’s defensive line has been well-documented, but perhaps the biggest news of the first week is the push Blake Miller is making along the offensive line. The 6-foot-6, 317-pound true freshman has been getting some first-team reps at right tackle, where Walker Parks started all 13 games inside. Parks recently began cross-training more heavily at guard and tackle.
Marcus Tate, Bryn Tucker, Trent Howard and Mitchell Mayes are also competing for playing time at the guard spots. John Williams, another interior lineman, missed most of Friday’s practice with an ice pack on his left knee.
“Where are we physically on both sides up front? I’m anxious to see that,” Swinney said. “Hopefully it’s going to be a battle.”
Swinney will also be keeping a close eye on the punters, who have caused him to run the gamut of emotions as Clemson continues to look for Will Spiers’ successor. And then there are the freshmen, most of whom Swinney is getting to see in action at Clemson for the first time.
Eleven of the Tigers’ 20 freshman signees didn’t arrive on campus until the summer, and decisions have to start being made as to which ones are far enough along to contribute this fall. Receivers Antonio Williams and Cole Turner have been among the newcomers Clemson has tried at punt returner while Jack Smith is involved in the punting competition. Meanwhile, one freshman, injured cornerback Myles Oliver, is already looking at a redshirt.
“Just kind of see where some of these guys are,” Swinney said. “By then, it’s the (eighth) practice and there’s a lot that’s gone in. So where are some of these younger guys mentally?”
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