CLEMSON — College football, coach Dabo Swinney reminded reporters Monday, is the only level of the sport that doesn't hold preseason contests.
Both high school and professional coaches are afforded the opportunity to tinker with matchups, lineups and formations against real opponents before the season starts.
Clemson won't have the opportunity to test itself against live competition until Aug. 29, when Georgia Tech comes to Memorial Stadium. In the meantime, the Tigers held two intrasquad scrimmages during fall camp, pitting the team's offense against the defense.
The second of the scrimmages was held Thursday morning. Here are four takeaways from the game.
1. First team wins the day
Swinney was impressed with the team's starters on offense and defense, which should come as little surprise given the star power on both ends of the ball.
The veteran coach expressed frustration at the play of the backups, though.
"The positive is a lot of guys got exposed today that (I) felt like they were doing pretty good," Swinney said. "We got some guys that got their eyes opened today. Got a few guys that I know are ready to play, and we got a bunch that I know aren't."
Swinney noted that the reserves on offense committed too many turnovers and struggled with bad snaps and dropped passes. The defensive reserves missed tackles and committed penalties.
"Some guys took a step forward, some of them took a step back," Swinney said. "Now we assess. Got to make some decisions personnel-wise."
2. Darien Rencher has shot at third running back slot
Junior Travis Etienne has a lock on the starting running back slot, and sophomore Lyn-J Dixon, who averaged 8.82 yards per carry on 62 carries last season, figures to be the Etienne's primary backup.
But co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said Thursday it's unclear who will be next on the depth chart.
"We're trying to figure that out," Elliott said. "The young guys, I think they came in and started fast. They're realizing what college football is all about. They're into that second week of camp, and a lot of live snaps."
Elliott did say he's been pleased with junior Darien Rencher, an original walk-on from Anderson. Rencher rushed for 65 yards on 15 carries last season.
"He just has to accept his role and understand that when he goes in there, don't do too much, just be yourself," Elliott said. "He's a very, very reliable guys. Very trustworthy in pass protection. The biggest thing for him is trying not to do too much."
Clemson's head coach has developed a soft spot for Joseph Ngata. Asked when he realized what he had with the freshman wide receiver, Dabo Swinney replied: "First day of practice."
3. Jackson Carman is most improved offensive lineman
Elliott didn't hesitate Thursday when asked which Tigers offensive lineman had helped himself the most.
"Jackson Carman," Elliott said. "No doubt, Jackson Carman."
Elliott said the Tigers coaches have never doubted Carman's physical ability or football IQ. The 6-5, 345-pound tackle was the No. 1 recruit in the state of Ohio for the class of 2018, per 247sports.com, and he played 209 snaps in 13 games as a freshman.
This year, Elliott said, Carman has finally "bought in."
"When you buy in, you have the chance to be successful," Elliott said. "He's helped himself, and that's resulted in him being a lot more consistent, too."
Carman, a sophomore, was listed as the starting left tackle on Clemson's post-spring depth chart.
4. CB Derion Kendrick misses scrimmage to attend former teammate's funeral
The converted wide receiver is slated to start opposite junior cornerback A.J. Terrell but he has missed time this camp due to a hamstring tweak.
Swinney said Kendrick was expected to play in Thursday's scrimmage but instead attended the funeral of a former teammate.
"I think that's his second teammate that he's lost in the last year," Swinney said. "Thoughts with his family."
In Kendrick's absence, freshman Sheridan Jones started opposite Terrell.
"He's asking a lot of questions," Terrell said of Jones. "He always comes to me for some feedback, and I'm giving it to him."