The first stadium scrimmage midway through spring drills did nothing to quash the optimism at Clemson.
Coach Dabo Swinney said he “saw a lot of good things,” and the team was farther along this spring than a year ago — “just night and day from where we were in the first scrimmage last spring.”
Asked how he might grade the progress, Swinney complimented the staff for “the effort that’s been put into it and the amount of detail that’s being coached.”
“The work ethic and toughness that we’re coaching with, I’m very pleased with all of that,” he said. “I would give our team a very, very high grade, too, in that they’re responding.”
Defense continues to impress in coordinator Brent Venables’ second spring, Swinney said. It might account in some measure for quarterback Tajh Boyd’s less than stellar numbers — 5 of 15 passing for 55 yards, a touchdown and an interception by corner Bashaud Breeland.
Cole Stoudt probably gained additional traction in securing the backup job for another season, completing 6 of 9 for 113 yards and two touchdowns. Chad Kelly didn’t lose much ground, completing 8 of 14 for 71 yards and a touchdown.
“I thought our quarterbacks were solid,” Swinney said. “I thought Cole was incredibly confident. Chad Kelly made some nice throws.”
Trying to earn a pardon from a suspension before the bowl game for academic transgressions, Martavis Bryant caught three passes for 46 yards and two touchdowns. Though the talent is unequivocal, Swinney tempered his enthusiasm given Bryant’s history. “He doesn’t have anything in the bank.”
Swinney said the offense lacked the crispness that comes from mixing and matching as they search for the perfect storm. Rod McDowell rushed for 58 yards on 5 carries and C.J. Davidson totaled 70 and a touchdown on 7 carries.
“You’re a mixed bag when you don’t have the continuity. We’re mixing and matching on the offensive line, a lot of different guys in and out,” Swinney said. “The quarterbacks are mixing and matching. We’re doing a lot of different things.”
Two more scrimmages, including the spring game April 13, are the final two tests.
“I expect to see a lot of improvement between this time out and then,” Swinney said.
Injuries continue to hamper the defense, already thin in the secondary.
Cornerback Martin Jenkins (recovering from sports hernia), linebacker Tony Steward (hyper-extended knee) and Jadar Johnson (dislocated elbow) were either limited or out.
“We rep three groups,” Swinney said. “We get thin real quick when we get into the second group.”
Still, he was encouraged by “the players I know can play.”
“From an execution standpoint, we’re nowhere near an A, but, as far as the process that we’re in, halfway through, I’m very pleased,” he said.
“I think the guys have come every day with a good attitude, a good work ethic.
“That’s all you can ask for, at this point. You can challenge them in a lot of areas. As long as they keep responding, that’s fine.”