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March 6, 2012

Dabo previews spring practice

CLEMSON, S.C. -- Tuesday morning Clemson head football coach Dabo Swinney addressed members of the media via teleconference to preview spring practice. The Tigers begin March workouts on Wednesday afternoon, the first of 15 sessions that will conclude on Saturday, April 14 with the annual Orange & White scimmage.

The following is an edited transcript of Swinney's Tuesday morning comments.

Opening statements: "Hope everybody is ready to get going. I'm one of those guys that loves spring ball, actually. You don't have the pressure of playing in a game. You start building a new team and reassess where you are. You go in the spring with objectives, but until you get to working with them, you don't know how far you can get them in 15 days.

"One of the things I'm excited about is that last year, we had 31 guys who did not participate in spring practice. We were waiting on about 31 guys to join our football team in the summer. That's a lot of guys. That's a third of your team. This year, we have 12 freshmen who will get here in July. And we have two guys who are hurt - Steward and Hall. We have the great majority of our team that's been able to go through our off-season program. That's really good, especially for the guys up front. Because we have a lot of growing up to do on the offensive and defensive lines. That's a major point of emphasis. We have talented guys there. We just don't have a lot of guys who have played a lot of football. It should be an incredibly competitive spring. We're going to really challenge our fronts. We've got a lot of bodies on both sides of the ball. We've got to give a lot of guys opportunities a chance to compete.

"I think we've got good skill. I feel good about those guys, wide receiver, tight end, quarterback and I love our linebackers. We didn't lose anybody and got all those guys back. We lost just one DB. We've got our kicker back and I'm excited about developing Lakip this spring. Pinion is here. Benton is back and he'll go in as the starter. Spring ball, we'll look at a few things differently with our special teams. This is the time to try."

Q. Can you talk to us about off-season tweaks offensively? There's a lot of talk that you're going to go to the pistol (a lot).
Dabo. "That's the beautiful thing about the world we live in. Everybody has got speculations. We're going to go work on the things that we did well, try to improve things we didn't do well and in the off-season you're always studying. Everybody says we're going to the pistol, but we were in the pistol last spring. We just needed to learn more about it. We're going to do what we did last year, but hopefully do things better. We're studying protections and you're always trying to improve on that. I'm not going to give you a blueprint of exactly what we're going to do because that kind of defeats the purpose."

Q. Do you consider the pistol five yards from center or seven yards?
Dabo. "It's just the alignment of the back. If you have a shotgun quarterback and a back behind you, that's technically a pistol. You won't be in a normal gun depth and have a guy behind him. When you do get in the pistol - which is a shotgun formation with a back directly behind him (QB) - it's really more about alignment of the quarterback and back as opposed to depth but depth is a part of it."

Q. What do you want to see out of the defense this spring?
Dabo. "The biggest thing is try to get everybody on the same page and make sure we develop our identity. We need to emphasize our fundamentals and make sure we're simple enough and everyone knows what they're doing. We have to find our best 11 and build depth. We have some question marks up front. Who is our best four? Is it moving a guy from tackle to end or from end to tackle? What's our situation? We have to really assess that. There are just a lot of unknowns. We have one senior who has a lot of experience and the rest are sophomores. Just coaching details. That's what I'm looking for. We want to be a defense that sets the tempo."

Q. Where would you see Brandon Thomas starting off and how about some of the other guys?
Dabo. "We have a lot of questions and openings there. Dalton is kind of an all-conference player. Brandon has been an MVP for us in our off-season program. I've been incredibly pleased with what I've seen out of him this winter. It's almost like now a lot of guys have moved on and he's tried to lead. He has been great this off-season. He has really stepped up in a role he wasn't necessarily in last year. He brings a lot of flexibility to our line because he can play tackle or guard. Ultimately we just have to find the five best. Who are they? Is it a backup center who can play guard? Does Brandon move to tackle? We have some flexibility there with him. He'll be one of our best five.

"I'm really excited about Shatley. I just think this is a great move for our team and a great move for him. He looks totally different on that side of the ball watching him go through the drills. He goes from being an OK athlete to being a really good athlete. He'll start off at right guard for us. Who are our best tackles? The candidates are Gifford Timothy, who has played a little bit and has had a good off-season, Shaq Anthony, who has had a good off-season, Joe Gore and Isaiah Battle, who we're excited about. Who's the best two of those four? Is it a guy like Ryan Norton or Kalon Davis (at guard) who deserve to be in our best five? We have to figure that out."

Q. Do you look at other skill folks to help out at tight end?
Dabo. "It's going to start with Brandon Ford. We're really excited about Brandon. He made some big plays for us this past season. Brandon was a tweener who has developed into the position. He's now a 240-pound guy. He's got great, great ball skills and has made a ton of progress in the last two years into developing into a tight end. I really think this is his year. If he does what I think he's going to do, he can be another one who will have a chance to play with Michael Palmer and Dwayne Allen. I think he's got that in him if he'll just take it to another level this spring and summer. He can be a very good player.

"Behind him we're excited about Sam Cooper. We've got Darrell Smith who has really gained our confidence. We've got a great freshman coming in here we're excited about. We've got Eric MacLain who we're excited about. We've got good people there."

Q. Where is Mike Bellamy with you now?
Dabo. "He's been doing OK. He's hanging in there. He's one of those guys you just kind of pull for. So far he's doing what we've asked him to do. He's not perfect. I don't think any of us are perfect. But he's trying to improve himself on and off the field. And I'm excited about that. That's all you can ask for. He's had a good off-season. He's picking up weight, he's getting stronger. It's really the first time ever he's been through a program. I'm excited about where he could be if he'll stay on track. Hopefully he'll come in here around 186 pounds by the time August rolls around. That'll be up from 160-something when he got here. This is a big spring for him. We've challenged him in a lot of areas. So far, so good."

Q. What does he need to do off the field?
Dabo. "Just be more mature. Little things. Showing up on time. Being more accountable."

Q. Anything new on Steward's red-shirt status?
Dabo. "They denied it. That's really a shame. That's just the way it is. He played in more games than were allowed, but he didn't play many snaps. That's the rule, though. They feel like he's going to possibly be released by May and be able to join the guys full speed come May. That would be really good. He didn't really get released until July last year and he was limited in camp. Hindsight is 20/20, but based on what we saw, we felt he'd be ready the second half of the season. It was just a freaky deal on punt team practice. He's got a great attitude and a tremendous work ethic. He's going to be a great, great player. We'll see where he is this summer."

Q. Can you discuss the need for that group at linebacker to emerge?
Dabo. "We've got some talent. Brent is excited about working with them. That group has gotten better and better. Tig Willard was our solid rock guy from the season last year. We felt he grew the most last year. And he's got another year. I think he'll be a definite factor. Corico is a leader for us who will give you everything he's got. He can win for us, no doubt. Quandon is the guy who needs to come on this spring. I just felt like he did not have the kind of season as a sophomore that I anticipated. He's very, very talented. It's just a matter of him putting it all together. He's a guy who can be a big factor for us. That's where it starts with us.

"After that it's all the young guys. Stephone Anthony is an All-American in the making. He's everything you'd want in a guy, ability, work ethic, focus and maturity. He's got all the great measurables. B.J. Goodson is coming off a red-shirt. Justin Parker, it's time for him to show up and be who he is. Tony can't go through spring but we know what he's capable of. It's just a matter of time before he becomes a great player. That's where it starts for us. Lateek Townsend is another guy everyone is excited about. He brings a ton of energy to the table. He got enough experience last year, just enough to be dangerous. We have a good group to work with. I'm excited about watching Brent coach them."

Q. Do you treat the aftermath of the bowl game as motivation or do you just start fresh?
Dabo. "It's a little bit of both because we stunk it up the last time we played. Bottom line. That's a definite motivating factor as you go into the off-season. At the same time, you have to focus on 2012. We have a new team. That team is gone. That team did a lot of good things. They weren't great but they were good enough to win the ACC. You can't let one game just make you lose sight of what was accomplished. Those guys did great things that nobody thought they were going to do. You learn from it and use it as motivation but you also have to start fresh. It's a new team and right now we haven't done anything. We lost a lot of experienced players in our first group on both sides."

Q. What do you want to see out of Tajh this spring?
Dabo. "He has to become a better game manager. He has to improve his ball security and game management. He did a lot of good things but led our team in turnovers. He did a lot of good things, but we want him to be better. Now we have a whole season's worth of tape for him to study. He's got to become more consistent. He's really become the leader of our team and that's an area he can continue to grow in. He needs to keep improving his overall knowledge of the offense. I sure am excited about seeing him get back out there. He's got a work ethic, an intensity and a will to improve and be coached. That's why he'll be a great player."

Additional Pre-spring practice coverage:
  • More to accomplish

  • Life at tight end after Allen, Diehl

  • Breakout candidates II

  • Breakout candidates

  • Full speed ahead III

  • Full speed ahead II

  • Full speed ahead

  • Pre-spring lowdown II

  • Pre-spring lowdown

  • Key spring storylines II

  • Key spring storylines

  • *** To chat with other Clemson fans about this article please visit The West Zone message board.

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