For Dabo Swinney, redshirting is part of the long-term plan – sound personnel management policy designed to maximize the contributions of every player who comes into the Clemson football program.
Policy may change in a significant way next fall.
In some areas, the Tigers need help in the here-and-down, and those needs were addressed forcefully with the signing class that Swinney and his staff assembled on Wednesday.
In other areas, the Tigers signed freshmen who are simply too good not to put on the field and into competitive situations immediately.
And then there is the handful who will arrive in the program thinking in terms of a ‘three-year track’ to get to the NFL.
“They all think they’re on a three-year track, but most of them mature beyond that, and they grow and develop and they see the bigger picture,” said Swinney. “But yeah, there are some that you just know – if he stays healthy and everything goes good, then he’s probably only going to be here (three years).
“Usually that’s one or two from time to time, not five or six. But that’s OK – that’s part of it.”
As he surveyed the list of Clemson’s 29 signees on Wednesday, Swinney said “I have no idea, and there’s no way of saying right now” who will play in 2011.
He amended that statement as he worked his way down the list of possibilities.
“I think Mike Bellamy’s going to play – I think that’s a pretty safe bet,” Swinney said. “Obviously one of these quarterbacks is going to be our backup. Ideally, you’d like to sort that out, have somebody win that job, and then maybe redshirt the other two. That would be the ideal situation, but circumstances will dictate that.”
Swinney said that the groundwork for some of the staff’s decisions will be laid this spring, as veteran back-ups get a chance to step into front-line roles, and as redshirt freshmen get their first significant work with the varsity.
“A lot will depend on what happens this spring with some guys,” Swinney said. “There are certain guys who have to step up and perform a little better, or hey, let’s just play the young guy. And I’m anxious to see how some of our redshirt freshmen perform this spring.”
The Tigers’ lack of experienced depth at linebacker, coupled with the addition of high-profile players like Stephone Anthony, Tony Steward and Lateek Townsend, should mean wide-open competition once preseason camp begins.
“I would be shocked if those linebackers are not on the field, and a guy like (Eric) MacLain will have a shot (at tight end),” Swinney said. “We have a kicker coming in who’s going to have a chance to compete the day he gets here, so we’ll see what happens there.
“We need some depth on the defensive line, especially with Da’Quan Bowers leaving. We have a huge need at end, so we’ll see how that works out…And it’s hard for me to see Martavis (Bryant) and Sammy (Watkins) and Charone (Peake) not playing next year. And don’t count out the other guys.”
Swinney predicted that there will be some surprises when the freshmen arrive on campus.
“You never really know until they get here,” he said. “I’ve been around guys who you say ‘there’s no way he’ll redshirt,’ and you find out that he’s not quite ready; and I’ve been around others who you think there’s no way he’ll play, and he just blows you away – ‘wow!’
“Barry Richardson is one who comes to mind. Never in a million years did any of us think that he’d be playing as a freshman, but he ends up starting and is one of the smartest guys that we had on the team.
“Until you start coaching them and see how they react and respond, you just don’t know,” he added. “But I would think we’ll have a significant number of these freshmen lining up for us in the fall.”
Most Likely To Play…
Mike Bellamy – Lightning-quick running back will add an explosive element to the backfield.
Tony Steward – Physically, he’s ready to make an impact as a front-line playmaker.
Stephone Anthony – Likewise, Anthony is ready-made for early playing time.
Lateek Townsend – While he’s not yet at his ideal playing weight, thin numbers should mean early opportunity for another top-10 linebacker and Clemson’s second straight best-in-the-state signee at the position.
Martavis Bryant, Sammy Watkins & Charone Peak – The Tigers gave themselves a serious talent upgrade at the wide receiver positions. Look for new offensive coordinator Chad Morris to use them all.
Ammon Lakip – He’ll challenge Chandler Catazaro for the field goal job from day-one.
DeShaun Williams or Grady Jarrett – Numbers say that the Tigers will need an extra body in the interior defensive line mix next fall.
Corey Crawford – The hole left by Da’Quan Bowers should mean that Crawford will step on the field competing for a No. 2 spot on the depth chart.
Tony McNeal or Cole Stoudt – One will play as the Tigers’ backup quarterback, while the other, if all things go well, will redshirt. The competition gets underway next month.
Eric MacLain – Although all of the Tigers’ tight ends return, there will be room for a player of MacLain’s physical maturity to immediately make an impact.