Clemson coach Dabo Swinney did not hesitate when asked late in the day what question he had yet to hear from media members at the ACC Kickoff event in Charlotte on Thursday afternoon.
“I haven’t been asked about a lot of my current players, to be honest with you,” Swinney quickly replied. “I’ve been asked a lot about how we’re going to replace the guys who left – not much about Mitch Hyatt or Deon (Cain), Kendall Joseph or Austin Bryant, Clelin (Ferrell). Nobody’s really asked me about those guys.”
The Tigers must replace a handful of stars from the 2016 squad that won the national title, topping Alabama in Tampa to deliver Clemson its first national championship since 1981.
But Swinney is confident he has talented players ready to step up and fill voids left by All-Americans Deshaun Watson, Mike Williams, Ben Boulware, Carlos Watkins and Jordan Leggett.
“Y’all have really helped me out a ton,” Swinney said to the large contingent of media members that gathered around his table. “Y’all have made it easy because all spring and all summer everybody just talks about the guys that are gone. That really creates a great hunger for a lot of these kids and gives us a great edge. We’ve got a lot of guys that are sitting in the back of the room going, ‘Hey, I was recruited too.’ They’re eager to go prove that they’re ready to take that next step and have that big role.”
Not many are questioning whether Clemson has the overall talent to win its third consecutive ACC title and return to the College Football Playoff for a third consecutive time.
Clemson returns the majority of its defense and has recruited elite skill players under Swinney.
But if the Tigers are going to continue their historical run, they need to have sound quarterback play.
Kelly Bryant remains the leader at the position heading into fall camp, but Swinney sounded as if the battle is far from over.
“We’ve got to have a consistent performer at that position. I’d rather have a guy that’s a consistent performer than a guy that’s maybe got a little more talent that’s hot and cold,” Swinney said. “You can’t win with those guys. That’s all we’re looking for. We have a starting point when we get into camp. … Kelly is going in as the first-team guy. He’s earned that and definitely today gives us the best chance, but we’ve got a lot of work to do. We’ve got a whole month of camp.”
Other contenders for the job include redshirt freshman Zerrick Cooper, true freshmen Hunter Johnson and Chase Brice and redshirt sophomore Tucker Israel.
Swinney has no timetable for when a decision will be made. He just wants to make sure he makes the right move.
“We’ve got to go through camp and see how it all plays out, let them compete,” Swinney said. “All of those guys I want to see. I know where we were with Zerrick and Hunter and Kelly. I’m really anxious to get out there and see where they ar. e… A depth chart in the spring is worthless when you’ve got that amount of time before you go play.”
Clemson returns four of its five starters on the offensive line but has plenty of skill position players to replace, including leading rusher Wayne Gallman and its top two receivers in Williams and Artavis Scott.
But Swinney does not expect much of a drop-off, if a drop-off at all.
“We’ve got three really good backs, and people are still talking about Wayne Gallman,” Swinney said. “These guys are eager, because they had a role on our team last year. Now these roles are going to be bigger for a lot of these guys. And there’s an excitement and a sense of urgency that I really, really like.”