Reigning National Champion Clemson opened fall camp for the 2017 football season on Thursday. Head Coach Dabo Swinney welcomed 105 players to the practice fields behind the new Reeves Football Complex.
The Tigers began practice with “Flex” at 4:20 p.m. in the Poe Indoor Football Facility with the song “The Boys are Back in Town” by Thin Lizzy playing on the public address system. The team then went outside for the regular portion of practice and worked in helmets, shorts and jerseys for 21 five-minute periods. There were two breaks over the practice that was held in comfortable conditions. The practice concluded with words of wisdom from Head Coach Dabo Swinney, who is beginning his 10th season.
Swinney met with the media before the practice and has been encouraged by what he has seen from the team in the off-season. “This is my favorite time of the year,” said Swinney, who is in his 15th season as an assistant coach or head coach at Clemson, the longest stint of his career.
“We spent five days as a staff doing a re-installation of everything we do in our program from A to Z. The last two days we have been with our team talking about everything outside of football (X and O). Today we play football and it is great to have a complete team to work with.
“I was very pleased with the results of the weigh-in yesterday and the results we have seen over the summer,” said Swinney. “The guys have put the work in this summer. You can see it in their eyes. They have done a great job.”
Clemson is beginning practice later on the calendar than many FBS schools. NCAA rules now prohibit two-a-day practices so the governing body allowed schools to start preseason camp earlier. But the Clemson head coach said he is keeping a preseason schedule that is similar to what he has in the last few years.
“We really haven’t been doing two-a-days the last few years. If I called what we have been doing the last few years ‘two-a-days Coach (Gene) Stallings (Dabo’s coach at Alabama) would have laughed at me. We have crisp, workouts and get after it.
“I wanted to give the guys a break at the end of summer so they came back fresh for the start of camp.”
Swinney said that Kelly Bryant would open as the starting quarterback for the first practice. “Preseason camp we will work the quarterbacks in a rotation similar to what we did in the spring. We will rep three groups.
“We have not decided yet whether we will have the quarterbacks live in preseason camp as we did a few times in the spring. There were some benefits to that for the quarterbacks and for the defense. The defense learned that what they thought was a sack when we were in no hit on the quarterback, wasn’t a sack.”
Three players missed the first practice due to injury and will be out for a period of time. Defensive end Richard Yeargin will miss the entire season as he recovers from a neck injury suffered in a summer auto accident. Tight end/full back Garrett Williams is recovering from a torn ACL suffered in the spring, while quarterback Tucker Israel is recovering from an illness and is striving to regain some weight. Receiver Ray-Ray McCloud was limited as he recovers from a hand injury.
Swinney was pleased with the results of the team “weigh-in” on Wednesday. “I have never been so pleased to see someone weigh in at 337 pounds,” said Swinney with a chuckle. He was referring the All-America candidate Dexter Lawrence who had been near 350 pounds earlier in the summer. “Big Dex looks great.”
Swinney also pointed out that receiver Hunter Renfrow, who entered Clemson as a walk-on three years ago at 155 pounds, was a solid 181 on Wednesday. Swinney also complimented T.J. Chase on the work he has done in the off season.
The Tigers were ranked fifth in the nation in the preseason USA Today Coaches Poll released on Thursday afternoon. Clemson has finished with a higher ranking in the final coaches poll than the preseason poll each of the last six years.
“We were at the top of the mountain at the end of last year. Today we are at the bottom of the mountain with everyone else. This is a totally new team, but we have the same dream. We will fight hard to achieve our five team goals and play at the highest level.”
Dabo Swinney is the only coach in FBS history to accomplish that feat six years in a row. He broke the record last year when Clemson was second in the preseason USA Today poll and finished first. John Cooper of Ohio State and Bill Snyder of Kansas State previously had five-year streaks of finishing higher in the final poll than the preseason.
Notes: Clemson’s August 3 first practice as reigning National Champions was a week earlier on the calendar than the last time Clemson opened practice as reigning champions. The 1982 Clemson team started practice on August 10 before opening the season on September 6 at Georgia….Clemson will face four schools in the USA Today preseason top 25…The Tigers meet third-ranked Florida State, 13th ranked Auburn, 17th ranked Louisville and 22nd ranked Virginia Tech. ….Clemson had the second most first-place votes with seven. Alabama is the preseason No. 1 team and has 49 first-place votes.