CLEMSON -- After back-to-back 10+ win seasons, just how good can Clemson be in 2013?
Asked Monday night - three+ weeks into spring practice - if he's able to now see that this is a team that has the torque to take that next step after an 11-2 ledger in 2012, Dabo Swinney said, "What's encouraging to me is I like where we are defensively. We have not been at this point defensively in a couple of years from an overall personnel, depth and experience standpoint.
"If there's one thing I'm coming out of spring feeling good about, it's that we're further along defensively than we've been in a while."
The Tigers scrimmaged in Death Valley Monday and again Swinney said the defense held the upper hand, characterizing it as a "butt-kicking."
"I mean it really was," he said. "I wish I could paint a more balanced picture, but defensively it was pretty dominant. And from my perspective that is good, because I know our offense is going to be outstanding."
Clemson has had its share of problems defensively over the last two years, allowing opponents over 395 total yards a game, while still managing to finish 10-4 and 11-2 respectively.
Swinney said at the outset of spring drills he had seen his defense make "major strides" during winter workouts, prompting him to call for potentially "significant improvement" on that side of the ball in 2013.
"I'm just very encouraged with how they're competing on that side of the ball," he said Monday. "If you're good on defense, you've got a chance to be really good. And when I see what our defensive line is doing to our offensive line right now, it's pretty encouraging to me."
Swinney did not pinpoint a goal for the season in terms of wins. The Tigers did finish in the top 10 according to one poll in January and should be a preseason top 10 pick. Critical matchups with Florida State and UGA, projected top 10 teams, are in Death Valley. Clemson has not faced UGA in 10 years and FSU has not won in Death Valley in 12 seasons.
"How many wins? Who knows. The ball is not round. We've got a tough schedule. A lot of games come down to a few plays. Maybe it goes your way. Who knows," said Swinney. "I don't see any reason why we can't be a very good team."
It should be noted that Clemson's most experienced offensive lineman, Brandon Thomas, did not participate in Monday's scrimmage due to a class. And All-American quarterback Tajh Boyd received less than a half-dozen snaps, as coaches have dialed back his activity this week to give Cole Stoudt and Chad Kelly additional reps.
True freshman tight end Jordan Leggett again impressed coaches with four catches in Monday's session. Swinney has called out Leggett several times this spring for his good works. Asked Monday if at this point Leggett would likely play this fall, Swinney replied, "I would say if we were getting ready to play in a game right now, he'd be a guy we'd be getting ready to play simply because of numbers at the position. If he keeps progressing, he'll have an opportunity to be in the mix."
Swinney did remind reporters that Leggett still has a "long way to go before he's a dependable guy play in and play out," but stated again he has been pleased with the freshman's ability to quickly absorb information and translate it to the practice field.
Defensive end Vic Beasley recorded four sacks in Monday's scrimmage.
Charone Peake hauled in a 49-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Chad Kelly.
Stoudt finished the day with a 10-of-18 effort for 81 yards passing, a touchdown and a pick. Kelly finished 7-of-15 for 78 yards and a TD.
D.J. Reader collected five tackles, two sacks and three tackles for loss.
Grady Jarrett recorded three sacks in the scrimmage.
The Tigers will work out again on Wednesday.
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