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SPORTS LIBRARY, Clemson, football

CLEMSON — The Clemson Tigers have practiced 10 times this spring and only five practices remain between now and the annual Orange and White Game on April 14 (2:30 p.m., ESPN).

With two scrimmages down, the job of the coaches now becomes more about player evaluation than the outcome of the scrimmages. The task is difficult for coaches.

“As coaches we tend to focus on the negative,” head coach Dabo Swinney said. “My big thing to the coaches is, let’s don’t worry about winning the scrimmage. Let’s worry about exposing guys because that is where you can really evaluate. We are seeing right now who can do it and who isn’t where they need to be.”

The good news for the coaching staff is there was a lot of good to evaluate from the offense in the Tigers’ 91-play scrimmage.

All four of the quarterbacks threw at least one touchdown pass — including a 65-yard touchdown pass from Kelly Bryant to Amari Rodgers on the third play of the scrimmage.

Bryant had four touchdown passes. Chase Brice, Hunter Johnson and Trevor Lawrence all had one touchdown pass apiece of at least 20 yards. In total, the Tigers had eight plays of 20 yards or more.

However impressive those numbers were for the Tiger offense, according to Swinney the numbers can be deceiving.

“It was good or bad. We had some ebbs and flows,” Swinney said. “I thought the offense came out fast ... There were some big plays today, but it was either feast or famine.

“We wouldn’t do a whole lot and then there was a big play. We probably found the end zone more today than we have in a while So there were some big plays made. It’s just consistency.”

Needless to say, the Tiger defense giving up eight explosive plays did not sit well with defensive coordinator Brent Venables.

“It’s a little bit of everything — coach has got to be responsible first,” Venables said. “The guys need to leave that meeting room with the right kind of edge and mentality and that’s our job — getting them ready to play. They’ve got to take ownership too.

“There’s too many mistakes — physical mistakes, mental mistakes, just not the right edge and focus, stopping, jumping offsides, stopping the back end … I just didn’t think that we played with the maturity that you need to.”

The Tiger defense ended the day better than it started after opening the scrimmage lining up offsides on back-to-back plays.

However, the defense rebounded to finish the day with seven sacks by seven different players -- Austin Bryant, Tanner Muse, Denzel Johnson, J.D. Davis, Christian Wilkins, Tre Lamar and Clelin Ferrell. Redshirt freshman LeAnthony Williams added a 30-yard interception return, broke up two passes and had three tackles.

“The defense finished better than they started,” Swinney said. “The defense just didn’t have the right body language today. Perhaps it was a carryover from having nine days off for spring break.”

While Swinney may be willing to attribute some of the defensive struggles to the layoff, Venables was not so sure that was the reason.

“We just didn’t play very well and got a lot of work to do,” Venables said. “Just today, I don’t think we had the right kind of focus. I don’t know how much was (the layoff). They were catching them and out competing them on the other side. We didn’t do a good job of leveraging the ball and playing like we need to play.”

The good news for the Tigers is that it was just a scrimmage and there are still five months before the games count.

But there is one more chance for the Tigers to earn their stripes in a big way — the Orange and White Game. That is why Swinney wants the Tiger fan base to show up.

“That is a huge evaluation piece. That is why I hope our fans will show up on April 14,” Swinney said. “The game is on TV — it matters. I mean it matters when they scan those cameras and you got bleachers where people are showing up.

“I will tell you what, our crowd is a huge, huge part of the evaluation piece for us because it’s all we have. We need that environment to further evaluate these guys.”

Zach Lentz is a Clemson University alumnus who got his start working with the Tigers basketball team from 1999-2004. Now a resident of Orangeburg County, he reports on Clemson sports as a correspondent for The Times and Democrat.

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