Clemson kicks off first day of practice as new season officially begins
CLEMSON — Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys are Back in Town” blared from the speakers of Clemson’s indoor practice facility.
Dabo Swinney played catch at the 50-yard line.
Austin Bryant and Clelin Ferrell danced in sync together.
The mood was light.
“All right!” a beaming Swinney said Thursday, the day of Clemson’s first 2017 practice, “Excited to get going, man ... really excited to be able to get back out on the field with these guys.”
For months, it’s been all about speculation following Clemson’s national championship, and for weeks, it’s been all about putting the pieces together for the coaching staff ahead of fall camp.
Swinney and his staff spent five days over the last couple of weeks reinstalling the program, then spent the last few days talking to the 2017 team about an array of topics outside of football.
Thursday, they finally got back to it.
For two-plus hours, the Tigers worked on agility drills and schematic drills, easing their way back onto the field for the first time officially with the entirety of the 2017 squad now that all the freshmen are on campus.
As the afternoon progressed, the quarterbacks group unsurprisingly received most of the media attention for the day as Kelly Bryant, Hunter Johnson, Zerrick Cooper and Chase Brice all went through a series of drills that flashed some of their talents for the first time semi-publicly. Tucker Israel is still sidelined with stomach issues.
″(With Kelly), the ball looked like it was coming out of his hand, looked like it was where it needed to be, all of his decisions looked like they were the right decisions, his confidence was there,” co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliot said. “I noticed that (Hunter’s) demeanor just looks a lot more confident. He just looked a lot more comfortable. Nothing looked like it overwhelmed him so that’s a positive there.
“We’ll go back on film and then once we sit down as a staff, slow it down, watch it play by play, analyze every person on every play, then we’ll be able to know if he’s been able to retain (the playbook) and bring it from the summer.”
The quarterbacks started off with footwork— making their way through ladders and obstacles as coaches lightly hit them in the process while they ran. Quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter encouraged Brice to remember to run at pad-level throughout the drills before each player moved on to throwing.
After a quick warmup, the quarterbacks worked on a drill where they threw from a short hash and aimed at a net about 15 yards away on the sideline. Each quarterback got four different chances to hit the net, and they threw in two-throw increments. Bryant and Johnson each hit the net two of four times, Cooper did not hit the net at all and Brice hit it all four times.
“From my perspective, when I saw (Brice) go in there, he didn’t look overwhelmed, but again that’s Day 1,” Elliott said. “We already have seven days in a row of installation planned, so we’ll see.”
From there, the quarterbacks started to run offensive plays, with Bryant still holding down the No. 1 quarterback spot, while Johnson and Cooper appeared to be co- No. 2s.
Swinney said he likes to avoid labeling players by string, so instead he uses a system that identifies them by group instead of by a pecking-order number.
“We’ll rep three groups. I don’t really like to call them 1s, 2s and 3s. I try to avoid that,” Swinney said. “We’ve always kind of called our guys, ‘The Attack,’ ‘The Swarm,’ ‘The Pride,’ and then we go ‘Orange, Purple, Pride’ on offense.
“I never go, ‘All right, give me the 2s.’ I don’t want them to ever think that way because we’ve got a lot of guys that are so-called 2s that are just as good as the 1s.”
Swinney said the coaching staff has not yet decided if the quarterbacks will be live in fall camp and as of now, the normal rules Clemson has for its quarterbacks will apply.
As for the team as a whole, Swinney kept it simple.
“You don’t get to stay at the top of the mountain,” he said of the national championship. “You don’t get to stay there. You’ve got to start over. We’re right back at the bottom with everybody else. You get what you earn in this deal.”