Clemson University

Swinney ‘fired up’ to get back to practice

Bodies can be replaced.

Leadership?

That’s another proposition entirely, and one that perhaps loomed as the largest to address as Clemson University opened spring football practice Monday afternoon with more than 100 bodies.

Coach Dabo Swinney hopes that at least some of those bodies possess that intangible ingredient he’s looking for.

The Tigers lost a lot of big-time players off last year’s 10-3 team, and in particular off the nation’s top-ranked defense, where Swinney will be looking for replacements at eight positions over the next several weeks — and 15 practice sessions — before the spring game April 11.

“We lost a lot of good players, but we lost some great leadership, and that’s what we’ve got to develop in a hurry,” Swinney said. “You can’t give a guy three or four years of experience in a spring practice. We lost some tough, battle-tested guys, so we’ve got to use every opportunity we get to develop leadership and toughness.

“That’s a consistent theme as we talk through each position, and I’m fired up to get it going. We’ve got a lot of work to do, but it’s a blast to get out on the field.”

A different story will unfold on offense, where the Tigers’ primary weapons are firmly established and entrenched in quarterback Deshaun Watson, running back Wayne Gallman and receiver Artavis Scott.

Though Watson will miss spring drills while continuing to recover at an accelerated rate following mid-December knee surgery, he’ll be counted on to assume a larger leadership role even though he’s already established a reputation in that regard.

“Even though Deshaun’s not out there, everybody respects Deshaun,” Swinney said. “But we still need him to lead, and he can do that.

“We need that from him this spring — in that quarterback room, on the practice field, in the dining hall, in the locker room.”

While Watson won’t participate fully in spring practices, his absence will allow Swinney to determine a pecking order for those players aspiring for the back-up quarterback role — junior Nick Schuessler and newcomers Kelly Bryant and Tucker Israel.

“You saw what happened to Ohio State last year,” Swinney said. “They had their back-up to the back-up starting in the championship game and they were still able to win. We’ve got to get all four of our guys ready to win the league for us. That’s our ultimate goal, and it starts this spring.”

Swinney also will have the advantage of having 14 mid-year enrollees on hand for spring drills, which represents an all-time high for the program.

“It’s very unusual, because our team is pretty much here,” Swinney said. “We only have 10 scholarship guys who aren’t here. They’ll be joining us in the summer.”

Bottom line?

Everyone has a chance to impress and make a move in the spring.

“We have a depth chart, but it’s not worth the paper it’s printed on,” Swinney said. “You have to prove yourself all over again. Typically we start with the veteran guys and go from there, but there are so many factors. There are a lot of pieces to the puzzle; we just have to put them all together.”

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