CLEMSON -- Prior to their first practice Tuesday, Clemson players warmed up under Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days" blaring down from the practice field speakers.

Whether or not the song was intended as a motivational melody, Clemson hopes the day marks the beginning of a golden period.

If head coach Dabo Swinney is to return the Tigers to national prominence, to their first ACC title in nearly 20 years, it began with the basics of football fundamentals Tuesday. While the team uses the opening week as a refresher course, Swinney is curious to learn who took the offseason seriously, which players took ownership.

"The biggest thing for me is to see how much we improved from April 10," Swinney said of early camp. "As I had individual meetings with all these guys (after spring practice), that was my big challenge to all of them: 'Come back a better player Aug. 3, come back a better team Aug. 3.'

"It's very obvious we've had a lot of guys work hard during the offseason. A lot of guys at a lot of positions just look more comfortable."

Backup quarterback Tajh Boyd's progress this summer should be particularly interesting to measure. The early returns were positive.

"Man, was he impressive," Swinney said of Boyd. "I'm just very proud of him because he had a ways to go this spring."

After his surprising decision to return last month, Kyle Parker was back spraying bullet throws around the practice complex Tuesday, knocking off some rust from football inactivity.

All eyes were also on the receiver corps, which is loaded with potential but short on production, with Xavier Dye the leading returning wideout at 14 catches.

Swinney was also curious to get his first look at Clemson freshmen in uniform, calling the group physically impressive.

Swinney said as many as eight true freshmen could play this year, with candidates for early playing time including receiver DeAndre Hopkins, who was also returning kicks Tuesday. Swinney was impressed with the size of Hopkins' hands. "He can really catch a football," Swinney said.

Victor Beasley looked the part at a thin tight end position, and Justin Parker could push for playing time at linebacker.

"For those younger guys that maybe haven't had as much opportunity … what is their confidence level going to look like when they step on the field Day 1?" Swinney said. "Are they moving quickly? Are they playing fast? Are they still at that stage where they are doing a lot of thinking?"

Swinney is also searching for leaders to replace players like C.J. Spiller, Michael Palmer and Thomas Austin -- players who were key in helping Clemson to its first Atlantic Division title last year, keeping the team together after a 2-3 start.

Who will emerge as the next generation of leaders? As the new playmakers? Clemson began searching for answers Tuesday.

"It's a long season, there's a lot to do, a lot of work to put in to get ready for our opener," Swinney said. "It's a time of year where everyone is undefeated and where everyone has hope. I think that is a beautiful thing."

McDaniel on Thorpe list

Clemson safety DeAndre McDaniel was named to the Jim Thorpe Award preseason watch list Tuesday. The award goes to the nation's top defensive back. Last year, McDaniel became the first Clemson player to intercept eight passes and make at least 100 tackles (102).

Reach Travis Sawchik at tsawchik@postandcourier.com, check out the Clemson blog at postandcourier.com/blogs/tiger_tracks and follow him on Twitter (@travis_sawchik).