Clemson held its final scrimmage of fall camp Thursday, exactly two weeks before the Tigers host Georgia Tech to open the 2019 season.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney had his first-team offense face off against the No. 2 defense, and the starting defense worked against the No. 2 offense. Swinney’s biggest takeaway? There is a large gap between the first team and second team on both sides of the ball.
“The positive is, a lot of guys got exposed today that felt like they were doing pretty good,” Swinney said. “Our first group on both sides won the day and really won the day handley. It wasn’t really close at all.”
Clemson opens the season with three Power 5 opponents, including two ranked foes. The Tigers face No. 11 Texas A&M in Week 2 and No. 22 Syracuse in Week 3. That means there’s not a ton of time to build depth.
“We’ve got a few guys that I know are ready to play and a bunch that I know aren’t,” Swinney said. “We’ve got to start getting ready to play. Next week we’ll start turning the page and get ready for Georgia Tech... We’ve got to start really dialing in next week and not repping three groups, start repping two groups, and start getting the guys that we think give us the best chance ready to play, and then go from there.”
As for players that stood out on Thursday, it’s no surprise that Swinney mentioned star quarterback Trevor Lawrence first.
“He’s pretty good,” Swinney said with a smile.
Swinney was also pleased with junior tight end J.C. Chalk, who is moving into a starting role in 2019.
“J.C. Chalk probably had his best day today. He had three or four really nice catches,” Swinney said. “I can’t remember if it was a touchdown or he got down to the one, but he’s catching the ball and playing with confidence.”
Another tight end is also making a name for himself is freshman Jaelyn Lay, who had some struggles during the spring but has played well during fall camp.
“He’s probably the most improved player and is going to be able to help us. Really pleased with him. He’s playing with confidence. He’s catching the ball. He made some tough catches. He’s playing fast,” Swinney said. “He’s still a work in progress. That’s a very difficult position in our scheme. But he’s much, much improved, which is a big shot in the arm for us because we’re going to need him.”
Clemson’s offensive line also had a strong day, led by left tackle Jackson Carman. The sophomore is a completely different player from last year, according to Swinney.
“He’s had a great camp, really matured, really grown up. It’s amazing what a difference a year makes with some of these people. It’s just amazing. Young people transform when they get serious about it,” Swinney said. “He’s just a different guy in every aspect. He’s worked really hard this past year. I’m really proud of him.”
Defensively, safety Nolan Turner had a pick-six, while linebacker Isaiah Simmons bounced back from a rough scrimmage Saturday.
“Isaiah had a better scrimmage today. I didn’t think he played well at all Saturday, to be honest with you,” Swinney said. “He played like he was 10 feet (tall) today and made a couple of plays that only he can make.”
The Tigers will have a light practice Friday before taking Saturday and Sunday off. Clemson will then finish up fall camp Monday and Tuesday before starting prep for the opener against Georgia Tech.
“The next few days are about getting our team healthier, because we’re beat up. That’s kind of what I expected it to be going into [Friday],” Swinney said. “[Friday] will be meetings and inside jog through practice, and then we’re going to give them Saturday and Sunday off and let them rest and recover and refocus and then come back here and finish camp Monday and Tuesday.”