CLEMSON — Late in the second quarter of Clemson's spring game April 3, coach Dabo Swinney approached cornerback Andrew Booth Jr. with a microphone.
Swinney was performing on-field commentary for the ESPN+ broadcast, and Booth had just pulled off the kind of spectacular one-handed interception — albeit out-of-bounds — that Tigers fans have come to expect from him.
"What do you have to say about that interception?" Swinney asked.
"That's regular!" Booth said, tapping the coach's stomach.
Regular for Booth, maybe, but not others. Clemson was with just three of its scholarship cornerbacks in the spring game, but Booth, junior Sheridan Jones and freshman Nate Wiggins proved why the group could be a strength for the Tigers in 2021.
"I thought those guys did a heck of a job," Swinney said later.
Booth, Jones and Wiggins recorded four tackles apiece, with Booth and Wiggins combining for two pass breakups and Jones recovering a fumble and returning it 21 yards.
Their strong performances were especially encouraging considering the group going forward will be without senior Derion Kendrick, who left the team for an undisclosed reason in late February.
Senior Mario Goodrich (attending a funeral) and sophomores Malcolm Greene (shoulder surgery) and Fred Davis II (hip flexor) were unavailable April 3, but Swinney expects all three to be ready for the season.
In the meantime, Clemson fans can salivate over the spring game tape. Booth, a former 5-star recruit, might have the highest ceiling of the group. Defensive coordinator Brent Venables on March 31 said it's important for Booth to stay healthy and be consistent with his fundamentals.
"He's had a good spring," Venables said. "He has the chance to be a special player. He needs to have a great summer in order to do that."
It wasn't just the cornerbacks who performed well in the spring game. Linebackers James Skalski and Baylon Spector and safeties Nolan Turner and Lannden Zanders were unavailable, but those who did play made things difficult for quarterbacks D.J. Uiagalelei, Taisun Phommachanh and Hunter Helms, getting their hands on passes and pressuring the pocket.
Linebacker Sergio Allen and safety R.J. Mickens each recorded interceptions. Mickens was elated but insisted he has room to grow.
"Obviously I need to get stronger," Mickens said. "Got to get better tackling, feel like that was my biggest weakness (in 2020)."
That was a defense-wide issue. Swinney chided his team's tackling after the 49-28 defeat to Ohio State in the College Football Playoff national semifinal Fiesta Bowl, and again during spring practice.
But on April 3, Swinney came away pleased with his team's tackling.
"It was solid," Swinney said. "I thought we did a nice job on some of those perimeter screens. I thought we blew a couple of those up defensively and did a really good job."