With a roster built to take a punch, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney believes this team can absorb the loss of running back Zac Brooks and offensive tackle Shaq Anthony days before kickoff and remain on script for the 2014 season.
“You don’t want to lose anybody. Fortunately, we’ve got good depth at all the positions,” Swinney said this week.
“If you lose a guy, it’s not the end of the world. You can sustain a guy here and there when you have the proper depth built into your roster.”
After reviewing game day minutiae at Thursday’s practice, Swinney said he was pleased with what the team retained during camp. “That’s the last little rite of passage going into the season,” he said. “From a planning standpoint, I think we’re right where we need to be.”
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Brooks stepped on a teammate in practice Monday night and tore a ligament in his right foot. A junior from Jonesboro, Ark., he wore a walking boot and will take a redshirt with the intention of returning next fall. “You could just see he was ready to have a great year,” Swinney said.
Losing Anthony could be more critical at a position not blessed with experience. A junior fom nearby Wren High, he told Swinney of his intention to transfer after preparing as one of the first options behind starter Isaiah Battle and Joe Gore. Swinney was surprised by Anthony’s decision and wished him well.
Talent should lessen the hit at running back with senior D.J. Howard, junior C.J. Davidson and redshirt freshman Wayne Gallman already preparing to share the principle load with promising freshman Adam Choice replacing Brooks in the rotation.
“Choice has had a great camp,” Swinney said. “He’s probably one of the best natural runners we’ve had here in some time.”
Anthony lost out to Gore in the battle at right tackle, but by cross-training Kalon Davis, Eric Mac Lane and Reid Webster at both guards and both tackles, there are options, though not without thinning the depth across the offensive line. Jay Guillermo and Tyrone Crowder have prepared to move into more meaningful roles at guard, Guillermo and Webster spell Ryan Norton at center.
In the past, there have been players Clemson could not afford to lose, and those they didn’t want to replace – imagine the angst a couple of weeks ago when somebody rolled up on Battle’s ankle in practice.
“You would hate to lose a Vic Beasley, that’s for sure, but we do have depth there. We have guys that can play,” Swinney said.
“We don’t need to lose a quarterback. We don’t have great depth there, from a championship standpoint.”
Also, the season can be a grind on players needed extensively. Depth of talent affords opportunities to spread the load. “That’s a luxury we have not had.”
“You don’t have to kill people playing 50 plays and have to play 30 snaps on special teams,” Swinney said. “That’s not always been the case for us. One year, I don’t think Spencer Shuey came off the field.
“It’s really nice because it gives us a lot of flexibility, to have fresh guys out there that can play the game,” he said. “Maybe they’re that fourth linebacker right now because there (are) some pretty good guys ahead of them and these are really talented guys you’re building your teams with.”
While the timing of Anthony’s decision was painful, Brooks’ injury was an unfortunate circumstance but a recurring one. Last season, it was a shoulder and before that were ankle issues.
“To have a great year, you have to have a little bit of luck with injury situations,” Swinney said, though he pointed out it’s gradually gotten better.
“We really have a very good roster. One of the ways you know that is you go look at the scout teams,” he said. “You go, ‘Holy cow! That guy’s on the scout team?’
“But that’s the way it should be if you’re going to be a great program.”