Swinney details specific improvements he’s seen from Uiagalelei

Swinney details specific improvements he’s seen from Uiagalelei

Football

Swinney details specific improvements he’s seen from Uiagalelei

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As D.J. Uiagalelei makes the transition from his first season as Clemson’s full-time starter to an all-important second, his coach has told anyone willing to listen that he believes Uiagalelei is in line for a bounceback season.

Dabo Swinney has also acknowledged there’s only so many times he can talk about it. Eventually, his quarterback will have to go do it.

Uiagalelei’s first opportunity will once again play out in front of a national television audience in less than three weeks when Clemson opens against Georgia Tech on Labor Day night. But as the Tigers continue preparations for the new season, Swinney said he continues to see strides in Uiagalelei’s game that lend credence to his conviction in his junior signal caller.

The primary improvement he’s seen is a different level of mobility and agility in Uiagalelei, who began preseason camp roughly 30 pounds lighter than the 260 pounds he played at a season ago. While offensive coordinator Brandon Streeter said he’s seen better accuracy from Uiagalelei during camp – one of Uiagalelei’s primary issues last season when he completed just 55% of his passes – Swinney has repeatedly praised Uiagalelei’s newfound elusiveness in the pocket and his creativity outside of it to make plays when things break down. Swinney did it again Wednesday following Clemson’s second and final scrimmage.

“He’s made a lot of plays with his legs in camp,” Swinney said. “I’ve told him three, four, five times, you wouldn’t have made that play last year because he’s just moving so much better.”

Beyond that, Swinney said Uiagalelei has been “awesome” in taking on more of a leadership role with the team. And not just the rah-rah type.

Swinney specifically noted Uiagalelei taking better ownership of the offense with improved decision-making in two areas that he struggled with during a tumultuous sophomore season: Holding on to the ball too long and turning it over.

Uiagalelei was sacked more than 20 times last season, seven of those coming in the Tigers’ opening loss to Georgia. He also threw more interceptions (10) than touchdowns passes (9), the first time a Clemson quarterback has done that while starting more than half the games in a season since Cole Stoudt in 2014.

Some of that was the help – or lack thereof at times – around him, but Swinney acknowledged those were Uiagalelei’s two biggest issues last season beyond the misfires.

“And those are two things we can control,” Swinney said. “There were a lot of those things on him that he couldn’t control. You’re going to have some misplays. You’re going to have tipped balls. You’re going to have guys drop the ball. Those are things that aren’t necessarily always on him. Receivers running the wrong route or whatever. But trying to do too much, taking sacks, holding the ball and turning it over, those are things we just can’t have.”

Uiagalelei hasn’t been perfect during camp. Without divulging details, Swinney said there was one play during the scrimmage that Uiagalelei would like to have back. But the mistakes, Swinney said, have been kept to a minimum so far.

“He’s done a really, really good job,” Swinney said. “He’s taking care of (the ball). He’s creating with his legs. He’s not taking sacks. And he’s just providing the type of leadership and fire that we need out there.”

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