CLEMSON — Even with sheets of rain pouring down, and temperatures barely creeping out of the 40s — Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney could not hide the warm smile on his face, as his 2018 Tiger football team opened spring practice on Wednesday.
"For us, spring practice is always a day of enthusiasm; everybody's excited to get back going," Swinney said. "Coaches are no different, we get tired of studying, ourselves.”
But the studying will not stop for the Tigers just because practice has resumed, in fact it may increase.
A large reason for the Tigers’ success over the last six seasons has been their willingness, as a coaching staff, to evaluate, adapt and change whatever did not work the previous season.
And even after a third consecutive trip to the College Football Playoffs, Swinney and his staff are still reaching out to other schools and head coaches for advice.
“We put a lot of time and a lot of work into our quality control, self-study, talking to other people, studying other people.” Swinney said. “We'll continue that all through spring, and post-spring and into the summer in areas that we need to improve as coaches. A lot of good things, obviously if you're a playoff team there's a lot of good things when you study yourself, but a lot of areas where we can improve.
“A lot of things that we set out to do last year, I think we accomplished. So, we got some things that we can build on there. But there are definitely several areas where we've got to make some strides.”
But for the players, spring practice is a time to start over.
With numerous position battles sure to rage on through the spring, summer and into the fall, the coaches will first look to the players who are established to stake their claim to their spot each and every day in practice.
Whether it is Christian Wilkins, Clelin Ferrell, Austin Bryant and, yes, even quarterback Kelly Bryant — their job is to show up each and every day and show that they deserve to be the starting guy at their given position.
For everyone else, spring ball is about making sure that they are doing the little things right.
"Spring ball is about starting over, it's about the details of your position, it's about the details the system — offensively, defensively, kicking game — and just the fundamentals and techniques that apply to everything,” Swinney said. “So, a lot of work on Clemson all spring — that's what it's all about. Trying to get the people in the right place, trying to evaluate.”
With 14 of their 15 allotted practices left on the schedule, Swinney admitted that - much like two years ago following the Tigers’ loss to Alabama in the national title game - this team has had a similar chip on their shoulder through offseason workouts and MAT drills.
It is that kind of focus, determination and, quite frankly, veteran leadership that Swinney believes gives this year’s squad a chance to once again be one of the elite teams in the country when the dust settles next January.
"We only get 15 practices, and this is only day one, but the guys are eager,” Swinney said. “This is, obviously, a team that is very veteran-led. Last year at this time we were sitting here with only six scholarship seniors. This team with the walk-ons, we have 29 or 30 seniors, 21 on scholarship.
"We've got a great, great veteran team with a lot of leadership at every position — so that's exciting as a coach. Our starting point this year is a lot different than it was last year, as a team. So, it's going to be a lot of fun."