With Spring practice just around the corner and mat drills in the rearview mirror, it's about time the boys strap on the pads and see what's in store for this team come fall. With plenty of talent at QB, WR, RB, the big question marks for this team going into practice is who is going to emerge on the lines. Both lines have huge holes with the loss of a large number of seniors, and this team is going to rely on freshmen to step up and contribute early and often. It certainly makes you nervous knowing this, but one things for certain, Robbie Caldwell and Dan Brooks are going to have to earn this paycheck this year.
A great majority of our team has been able to go through the offseason program and be able to use this valuable practice time during the spring. We have a lot of growing up to do on the offensive and defensive lines. That’s the big question mark, not necessarily a question mark but the major point of emphasis that we have on this football team. We have talented guys there, just not many that have played a lot of football at this level. It’s a great opportunity, should be an incredibly competitive spring, we’ll spend time working against each other and trying to separate those guys up front, there’s a lot of candidates and competition, it’s going to be exciting, very competitive.
A more encompassing storyline this Spring is going to be how this team evolves under the direction of new Defensive Coordinator Brent Venables. His pedigree is strong, and it's going to be interesting to watch how he runs his defense with the players we have on campus and with full reigns of his squad, something he didn't necessarily have at Oklahoma.
It's no secret the Clemson defense severally underperformed this past season, and that's why a change was made at the DC position. Venables (like Steele) has a LB background so it will be intriguing to watch how blue chip recruits like Anthony and Steward develop under his direction.
"First thing we have to get everyone on the same page making sure we develop our identity, get back to fundamentals and emphasize our position fundamentals and making sure that we’re simple enough that everyone knows what we’re doing and we have a chance to play fast and fly on the ball. Develop depth over there, find our best eleven, we have question marks surrounding our front, so we have to find who our best front will be. Is it moving a guy from end to tackle or moving a tackle to end?"
"What’s our situation, we have to access that because there are a lot of unknowns. We have one senior with a lot of experience in Malliciah Goodman but the rest are a sophomore who have played enough to get their ears wet but that’s it. We have a lot of questions there. We’re not starting necessarily at ground zero but we have a lot of teaching to do on the defensive side this spring."
Speaking of Steward, the depressing news out today was that he was denied his medical redshirt request. This was his second torn ACL (the first of which he suffered in high school) and there was optimism that he would be granted a waiver for his injury he sustained last fall. ACL injuries are dicey especially with the amount of cutting needed at the LB position. ACL injuries typically take 10-12 months to fully heal so its hard to assume he's going to be 100% by fall camp despite what Dabo said this morning. Tough break for Steward.
"They denied it, which is really a shame but that’s the way it is," Swinney said. "He technically played in more games than it allowed but he didn’t play many snaps. The good news is that he’s doing very well; Danny Poole said he feels like he may be released by May to join the guys full speed. He didn’t get released until July last year and we had to limit him in camp. He’s got a great attitude and tremendous work ethic. He’s going to be a great player and we’ll see where he is this summer. We have the flexibility if he has a set back where we can redshirt him later on in his career if we had to but right now he’ll go into the season as a sophomore."
How this past season ended in Miami still stings for a lot of Clemson fans. This team was thoroughly abused all night in the Orange Bowl in what was one of, if not the, most embarrassing losses in school history. The hope is this team avoids a beatdown like that again, and uses it as motivation for this season. It starts at the top. Swinney has to do a better job of shielding this team from distractions. When Clemson was at the top of the football world last year they fell hard losing 3 of 4 to GT, NC State, and South Carolina. Then again Clemson won the ACC championship, only to turn around and get pummeled in the Orange Bowl. He has to keep this team grounded if we are going to defend the title as conference champions.
It's motivation because bottom line we stunk it up the last time we played. That’s a motivating factor going into the offseason," Swinney said. "But you also have to move on and erase the past, it’s a new team and although the 2011 team did a lot of good things, they weren’t great but good enough to win the ACC. We weren’t good enough to be undefeated, win a BCS bowl or the National Championship but we did win the ACC for the first time in 20 years. We can’t let one game make you lose sight of what was accomplished."
Finally, the offense side of the ball will largely succeed or fail due to the performance and leadership of Tajh Boyd. With so much lost on the offensive line, he has to know that it's going to be a work in progress early in the season. Are we going to see the Tajh that was cool under pressure against Virginia Tech, UNC, and Maryland or will the Tajh that showed up against GT, NC State, and South Carolina emerge? Lets hope it's the former. There is going to be a lot of pressure on him this fall, and the goal is for him to continue to develop his craft during his second year at the helm and second year under the direction of Chad Morris.
"He’s got to become a better game manager and work on his ball security," Swinney said. "Bottom line is he’s got to improve in those areas, he did a lot of good things but led our team in turnovers. He gave up a bunch of sacks on his own. Now he has a whole season’s worth of tape for him to study. He’s got to become more consistent, he’s become the leader of our team but can still grow in that. He’s got to keep improving in his overall knowledge of the offense, going into year two he ought to have more command of it, know where the check down is, it’s got to be second nature for him. I sure am excited to see him get back out there he’s got good weapons to work with and such a work ethic, intensity and will to improve that not everyone has, that’s why he’s going to be a good player."