CLEMSON — With a week left until the long-awaited gameday matchup against Georgia Tech, the Clemson Tigers are putting the finishing touches on fall camp, making last-minute changes and establishing what head coach Dabo Swinney has called “functional depth” on the roster to carry the team through the 2019 campaign.
On Monday, Swinney said he thought coaches have done a good job through the spring and summer in finding numerous players at defensive end and tackle who could cycle in and out and contribute to stopping the run and containing the passer. While senior tackle Nyles Pinckney and sophomore Jordan Williams are expected to start, freshmen Tyler Davis and Darnell Jeffries and junior Xavier Kelly could see significant playing time at the position in 2019.
“We’re talented, but making that talent functional was a big challenge for us, and I think we've been able to do that,” Swinney said about the defensive line, noting that Pinckney has had an “excellent” showing at camp thus far.
“His knowledge, his understanding, just block recognition, protection recognition, the little things that just comes with experience and knowledge — he's really done a good job, and he applies that,” Swinney said.
The coach said he thought Williams was poised to make “big strides” in the upcoming season but was still a “work in progress.”
“He’s still figuring it out,” Swinney said. “I think he's set up to have an excellent year. I think he's going to get better and better. He just needs to play. He needs the experience. There's a lot of things consistency-wise and technique, fundamental-wise that he's got to grow into, but tool-wise and ability-wise, he's got it all.”
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At the defensive end position, Swinney said he expected a lot of competition among players for an opportunity to get on the field. He said he anticipated that players on the defensive line could be battling “for weeks” for a spot.
Multiple members of the Tigers roster, including junior Justin Foster, sophomore Xavier Thomas, sophomore Logan Rudolph and freshman K.J. Henry, were vying for roles at the end position.
“I think we're going to have a lot of that with that group, and I don't think that's a bad thing,” Swinney said about the ends. “It’s not an indication that we don't have good players. It's just that right now we've got a bunch of unproven guys that have a lot to go prove, and so that's good. I think we've got a lot of good hunger. The good news is we're talented.”
In addition to fostering a sense of competition among players to snag a starting role on the team, one main goal of fall camp is to further bolster chemistry among the team, Swinney said.
He said the older players have worked to help the inexperienced players learn the coaches’ philosophy and feel like part of the Clemson football family, which in turn, improves the product on the field.
“I feel really good about the chemistry,” Swinney said. “I think the leaders have done an amazing job with this group. Everybody that’s been around here, they have bought in and led, and they understand what we're trying to do, and they all recognize you've got 40-plus new people that are roaming around.
“They understand why we have to do what we do, and so they've led the way, and so it’s not just been me having to lead that. I’m pleased. I think the chemistry's in a good place right now."