CLEMSON - Happy Friday to y'all - the last Friday without a Pregame Pep Talk until December! (Can we get a what whaaaaat?)
Reporters had a pow-wow with Dabo Swinney and a few players to bridge the gap from fall camp to Georgia week Thursday night, and it's high time - 10 a.m., to be exact - to share some of the news, notes and nuggets out of Death Valley:
1) Swinney would be an airhead to not have some idea of the low-percentage shot most the public is giving the Tigers to win their opener. If nothing else, Swinney's confident in his older bunch - people forget that behind Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins last year was a relatively young team, which isn't the case behind Cole Stoudt this year.
"The blessing of having a veteran team this year is we've got a lot of guys who have been through a bunch of camps," Swinney said. "Focus was good, like you want in this type of scripted practice we had (Thursday.) Not a lot of mistakes, not a lot of penalties, not a lot of substitution problems. That's the reflection of a bunch of guys who have been there, done that.
"I think we're right where we need to be, and the biggest thing is just physically, really getting these guys where they need to be feeling good and mentally getting dialed in on exactly what we're going to try to do going into this game."
2) You're up, Adam Choice.
The former high school quarterback from Thomasville, Ga., will avoid a redshirt due to Zac Brooks' season-ending foot surgery, leaving the Tigers with just three healthy backs in camp (D.J. Howard, C.J. Davidson and Wayne Gallman.)
"We'll go the green light on him," Swinney said. "Choice has had a great camp. He's probably one of the most natural runners that we've signed here in a long time. Just great vision, low to the ground, he's physically ready. Mentally, we've got to grow him up some. But now that we've got the situation we have, we'll get him plenty of reps and get him ready to go."
Swinney's not sure how the freshman Choice will handle pass protection - again, he played quarterback in high school - but he has no questions about his playmaking ability.
"I don't have any doubt as we go throughout the season, he's going to impact us," Swinney said. "You give him the ball, and it's easy for him from there."
3) Swinney did name Howard, a senior, the gameday RB starter at Georgia, "but they'll all play."
Tyshon Dye is still questionable to return this season from a torn Achilles. The other unknown freshman, Gallman has garnered rave reviews from teammates.
"Great, aggressive player. That's Wayne," Howard said. "Brings a lot of aggression and passion and hard-nosed running to the team."
4) Defensive end Vic Beasley is used to inflicting pain on opponents. Unwittingly, he was part of Brooks' injury.
Swinney called Brooks' ligament tear in his foot "a freak deal - just came down on Vic's foot, kind of stepped the wrong way."
Andre Ellington tore a ligament in his foot in 2010, yet made it through the rest of college without reinjuring it. Brooks should be back in December or January, ready for spring ball.
"This year's the first year he kind of took that next step, physically and mentally, and his confidence was through the roof," Swinney said. "You hate it, because I don't have any doubt he was going to be an excellent player for us this year. But his career's not over. It'll work out."
Howard wasn't ready to consider Brooks' loss an opportunity for himself, looking genuinely pained his position-mate was gone for the year.
"Whenever we lose one of our own, it's always a tough loss," Howard said. "I'm very, very, very hurt by his loss. He's going to do some great things for this team, and he's going to make a lot of great plays in the backfield. I'm just making sure I keep everybody uplifted, and positive and moving in the right direction."
5) Clemson won't just watch gametape of Georgia to prepare for Aug. 30. Gametape of Florida State will pop on too. Yes, Florida State.
Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt takes his press coverage and complex blitzes from Tallahassee to Athens in 2014, which means the Tigers have their hands full with a highly-touted defense.
"We've been watching a little film, we've been watching some about the defensive coordinator from Florida State, some of his schemes," center Ryan Norton said. "Their defensive front is very talented. They play in the SEC, which is a very demanding conference. Big strong guys, athletic. It's going to be a challenge, and we're looking forward to stepping up to it."
6) Pencil in junior Joe Gore at right tackle to start the year, and perhaps be the lone option there for all of 2014.
"We hope so. Joe's just been outstanding all of camp," Swinney said. "He's earned the right to be the starter. He far and away earned the right."
So much so that Shaq Anthony, who started three games at that position in 2013, decided to transfer Thursday, citing a desire to be a starter.
"I feel like Joe's going to step up. Joe's had an unbelievable camp, so I feel like he's going to take that spot," Norton said. "He's real physical. I think he really bought into it finally. He's always been a hard worker; I think the light just clicked on for him."
7) As for Anthony, Swinney used to term "it is what it is" twice in referring to his choice.
"I support his decision. He's done a good job for us since he's been here," Swinney said. "Sometimes guys need a change. Sometimes guys want a little more than maybe what is here. Hey, we'll wish him well and move on."
"Yeah, I was surprised. But hey, I've been doing this long enough. Guys sometimes make decisions and Shaq has handled things the right way."
8) A reporter - no naming names, but his first name might or might not start with two As - dared to ask Swinney about the depth at offensive tackle, depleted for the third time in a calendar year.
Swinney eyed that reporter - all 5-foot-11, 175 pounds of him - and joked Dabo-style, "Yeah, just got a little worse. Can you play any tackle? Got any eligibility?"
(Answer: If you're looking for someone to get steamrolled by Vic Beasley daily in practice, I'm your guy.)
Seriously, though, Swinney was in good spirits. Didn't seem to concerned about Maverick Morris' development, Reid Webster's versatility at all five OL spots, or Kalon Davis' and Eric Mac Lain's ability to step in there in a pinch. But for 2014, it's a dire position of depth, that offensive tackle.
"We've got good people that have some experience," Swinney said. "We don't have any excuses. We ain't makin' none. We're gonna get five ready, and we'll go play."
9) Moving along from Swinney for a moment, Jayron Kearse certainly seems like a different guy than his kid-in-a-candy-store self as a contributing freshman in 2013.
Kearse's starting spot at free safety has been in question since July, as Jadar Johnson continues to push for time.
"I'm confident in what I can do. I'm confident in what Jadar can do," Kearse said. "We're both out there making each other better, and doing what we have to do to make the team a better team this season. We're leaving the decision up to the coaches and just playing ball."
Kearse made 55 tackles and a co-team-leading four interceptions last year, arguably the Tigers' best rookie on the field. He made 19 tackles in the last two games of 2013.
"I definitely feel like experience gives me an edge. Because I played in those big games," Kearse said. "But at the end of the day, the best man is going to play."
Is re-auditioning for the job he took from Travis Blanks last year a burden?
"I wouldn't say it's stressful, because I'm getting better from the competition," Kearse said. "If Jadar goes out and has a good day, I feel like I've got to match what he does. So it's only making me better."
10) A final word about the quarterbacks: had to ask Swinney if the plan was still on for Deshaun Watson, the true freshman whose first game will be 40 minutes from home in Gainesville, Ga., to play at Georgia situationally behind the starter Stoudt.
"He had a great camp," Swinney said. "We won't hesitate to put him in there."
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