GREENVILLE – Seven points to ponder out of the mouth of Dabo Swinney, who tonight kicked off the nine-stop Prowl & Growl summer tour which will conclude May 19 in Charleston:
1) Meet the man who holds the 2015 Clemson football season in his healing hands. (Or don’t. Since he’s not available for interviews.)
Deshaun Watson is merely the student; the master of rehabilitations is team physician Danny Poole, who has been there along with Watson making sure the Tigers’ prized quarterback strengthens his knee not just efficiently, but effectively.
Watson had ACL reconstructive surgery in December, and is on track to participate in summer drills before getting back to full speed in fall camp this August.
“Just par for the course for Danny Poole. He’s been doing it for a long, long time and I’ve got great confidence in those guys out there,” Swinney said Thursday. “Our whole training staff and Dr. (Larry) Bowman, they do a fantastic job.
“But the player has to do his part, too.”
2) Swinney famously tossed the term “genetic freak” on Watson last Nov. 29, in his postgame press conference after beating South Carolina and announcing Watson’s torn ACL.
Watson’s pretty strong between the ears, too.
“I’ve never been around a guy so mature at that stage as far as just understanding of the big picture. He’s literally like talking to a coach,” Swinney said. “He just gets it, at a level of no freshman that I’ve ever been around ever has.
“Deshaun is to the nth degree in anything and everything you ask him to do – and his rehab’s no different. That’s why he’s responded so well. He has really worked very hard to get back. They have a good plan in place down there and he’s executing it.”
A request this week for insight from Poole on that plan in place was declined by the university.
3) It was an interesting inquiry to conclude Swinney’s 15-minute discussion with beat reporters: how can Watson specifically build on last fall’s freshman year breakout?
More than anything else, it’d be suiting up for more than the eight games he logged.
“Biggest thing is, let’s play all year. Hopefully get a little lucky and avoid a couple of those little injury things,” Swinney said. “But just mentally, execute at a higher level. I thought he did a great job for us last year, but he should be playing faster because he’s so much more confident.”
Watson was thrown in for three series in the opener vs. Georgia, and won the starting job with his promising performance in nearly toppling No. 1 Florida State. But his true christening moment wasn’t until that Nov. 29 upset, which on the flip side, was against a South Carolina team that finished 7-6.
“Last year at this time, he hadn’t done it. It ought to look like he’s won big games,” Swinney said. “It’s about asserting himself as the leader of the team, the program. Now he’s going in as the guy.”
4) In the non-Watson department, Swinney foresees a blast from the past for linebacker turned safety turned training room tenant Travis Blanks, who has not suited up since November 2013 dealing with various lower-body injuries.
Blanks figures, once healthy, to go back to sam linebacker on rushing downs, after playing 10 games in 2013 at safety.
“He’ll be back in the box. Which, I think is the best spot for him. It’s where he had the most success,” Swinney said. “Could possibly even learn a little will ‘backer. He’s very, very smart, very instinctive, great tackler, physical, tough. Just a violent player in there. Really, that’s more his niche. So don’t count Travis Blanks out.”
5) Believe it or not: Adam Choice was Clemson’s leading rusher when he tore his ACL at Boston College in game seven last year, Oct. 18. (Yeah, that’s how porous Clemson’s running game was the first half of the season.)
Choice looked pretty healthy near the end of spring practices, cutting and running well with the squad while still wearing a no-contact jersey. At this point, he’s not going to be on the front line of the depth chart, but Swinney could see Choice contributing this fall.
“Certainly we’d consider him for a redshirt, but that would be a real luxury. That would be like having a lot of money in a savings account or something,” Swinney said. “I think we’re obviously blessed with some real depth. But y’all know how it is: you can get thin real quick. Those are decisions you don’t make in April. Those are September-October type of decisions based on what happens in fall camp and the early part of the season.”
6) As the coaches exit spring, Swinney will sit down with each player individually and give an assessment of his progress and where he stands within the program.
Calling that process one of his favorite parts of the year, Swinney added the hard work has only begun in crafting this 2015 squad.
“I don’t think there’s any question that we have the makings of a good team,” Swinney said. “Champions are made when nobody’s looking. That’s the biggest challenge, is what we get done this summer, the leadership this summer, the grind. That’s when you win.”
7) Just so you know, here is the remainder of the 2015 Prowl & Growl tour:
April 30 – Rock Hill | May 1 – Lexington | May 4 – Greenwood | May 5 – Charlotte | May 6 – Columbia | May 7 – Aiken | May 8 – Florence | May 19, 5 p.m. – USS Yorktown at Patriots Point, Mount Pleasant