SUNSET — Dabo Swinney didn’t need to open his mouth to show his whole team just what he thinks of Tajh Boyd, Cover Boy.
After Clemson’s head coach brandished a college football magazine with Boyd’s smiling likeness on the front, the reigning ACC Player of the Year and his mates watched as Swinney placed it in the nearest receptacle bin.
Fond memories of yesterday’s success can’t so easily be thrown away. But Swinney’s message to Boyd — and his entire team saddled with mammoth expectations — was clear.
The Tigers are 0-0. Just like everybody else.
“That stuff is so irrelevant. It really is,” Swinney said Tuesday, putter in hand while speaking at The Reserve at Lake Keowee before his summer golf tournament. “Let’s talk about it in November.
“It was just making a point to the team: what you’ve done in the past, that’s fun for people to speculate. Draw on those experiences, but understand there is still that price to be paid for success.”
This offseason was a little different from the previous one. Take the defense. An enjoyable ride to the Orange Bowl only paved the road for embarrassment, a 70-33 implosion at the hands of West Virginia, costing then-defensive coordinator Kevin Steele his job.
In particular, Swinney singled out the defensive line.
“Coach Swinney helped motivate my group. He told the whole football team we were the weak link of the team,” defensive tackles coach Dan Brooks recalled. “So I wrote that real big on the board, and we kept it there all year. That kind of got under their skin a little bit, and mine.”
The defense turned around under new boss Brent Venables, allowing a respectable 24.8 points per game. However, the goals are set even higher, now that returning players are used to Venables’ menacing style.
“I feel like there’s more of a comfort level with everybody,” Venables said. “From how I teach, to schemes, language, verbiage and how we go about practice … I think it was a more efficient spring.”
Brooks was in favor of his squad’s mentality during spring, the last extended time coaches have spent with players.
“Nobody seemed entitled, like we’ve arrived. They came back to work,” Brooks said. “They came back and went about their business. You’ve got to be able to handle adversity and handle success, and they did that.”
If the same pundits who put out those summer magazines showcasing Boyd have their way, this could very well be Chad Morris’ final season as a right-hand man.
The hottest offensive coordinator in the country is back for his third year guiding the Clemson attack, and before he receives potential future head coaching offers, he’s got a third chance to help Boyd master an offense that set more than 100 school records last year.
“Dealing with a third-year starter such as Tajh, we know what he’s done his first two years in this system. We’re well aware of the expectations he’s met,” Morris said. “It allows us to expand even more in our offense. He gets it, he understands it.”
Named to the Biletnikoff Award Watch List (spanning the nation’s best receivers) Wednesday were a pair of Tigers: Charone Peake was a bit of a surprise. Sammy Watkins, the 2011 National Freshman of the Year, was not.
“Sammy’s a special player, special young man, and very, very talented,” wide receivers coach Jeff Scott said. “Those guys always seem to respond very well to adversity. He had a difficult year to his standard last year — some of it was his fault, some of it wasn’t with injuries and sickness — but it’s something he’ll look back on and say the sophomore year he had put him in position for a great junior year.”
In the secondary, all eyes will be on top recruiting prospect Mackensie Alexander, who’s already on campus getting a chance to match up with Watkins in summer drills. Clemson graduated three entrenched starters on the back line, giving Alexander and other youngsters some opportunity.
“If you play with great technique, it will put you in position to make plays more often,” said defensive backs coach Mike Reed, the only new coach on staff.
“I want to reach for the moon. If I don’t get there, so what? I’ll land among the stars. Not a bad place to land, right?”
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