CLEMSON — Friday night, Dabo Swinney relaxed by watching some preseason NFL football.
“That’s how those guys find out who to put where,” Swinney said. “Because it’s live play, not going against the same people every day.”
Saturday morning, Swinney put his Clemson team through its version of preseason football. Following the Tigers’ third and final scrimmage inside Memorial Stadium, the fourth-year head coach had more certainty about the depth chart at a number of key positions.
“Monday’s our last day of two-a-days and we’ll be honing in on Auburn, getting guys penciled in to where they need to be,” he said. “We’ll have staff meetings and make some tough decisions. Whatever decisions are made, they’re not final decisions, but you’ve got to start somewhere.”
“I’m very encouraged by how guys responded to competition,” he said. “It’s been very competitive, given everyone a lot of opportunities to compete and we’ve mix and matched a bunch. I think right now, that Cole, if we played today, he’d definitely be our No.2 guy. We’re at the point where we’ve got to start getting dialed in from a reps standpoint next week.”
On the offensive line, sophomore left guard David Beasley and freshman right tackle Shaq Anthony, a Wren product, entrenched themselves in starting roles.
“I thought Beasley was solid, and Kalon (Davis) did good things too,” Swinney said. “I’d say Shaq Anthony stepped up a little more than (fellow right tackle) Joe (Gore). Joe, probably just from a mental standpoint is swimming a little bit. Athletically he’s very gifted, both of them are, but Shaq’s a little more consistent. Neither one of them you’d want to write home to mama about, but today Shaq gives us the best chance.”
Senior Spencer Benton has emerged as the top punter following a spirited competition with freshman Bradley Pinion; he’s also working as the long-range field goal kicker after making a 55-yarder Saturday.
“He’s punted the ball well, been consistent right now,” Swinney said. “Bradley’s got a big leg, big talent but Spencer has been very consistent.”
This week, Clemson’s staff is expected to make decisions on which freshmen will redshirt. Talented wideout Germone Hopper is on the bubble due to wide receiver depth; Swinney made it clear the staff won’t waste his year on a few snaps, despite Sammy Watkins’ two-game suspension to start the year.
Some players, he said, won’t have final redshirt decisions until three or four games into the season, depending on injuries and depth.
The offensive line appears settled – for now.
“We’ve got to get guys dialed in,” he said. “The guys we have to start the game with, those guys really have to get a lot of work the next two weeks to get on the same page. Not that other guys aren’t going to have an opportunity to continue to compete and play, but the next couple weeks, whoever we decide to go with, they’ve got to practice at a high level. We’ll give the guys a chance to compete but it may not be truly settled until we get live bullets.”
Junior quarterback Tajh Boyd was very pleased with his line’s performance.
“As much as those guys rotate, move around, I feel every person could play any position on that line,” he said. “Not today, but give them two days, they’ll be fine. Things have been moving along really well. Coach (Robbie) Caldwell has done a great job with those guys, pushing them, did a great job. They were the best they’ve been all camp.”
Boyd completed 13 of 22 passes for 218 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions; he connected with T.L. Hanna alum Martavis Bryant for scores of 13 and 66 yards. Stoudt completed three of eight passes for 61 yards.
Watkins had two receptions for 58 yards, and DeAndre Hopkins added three receptions for 49 yards. Rod McDowell was the scrimmage’s leading rusher, with four carries for 65 yards.
Swinney said the Tigers’ defense “didn’t have the same edge”; linebacker Stephone Anthony and safety Xavier Brewer both said the unit came out flat.
“Everybody’s facing a nameless opponent. You play to the standard, that’s it, regardless of where you play or who you play,” Swinney said. “I thought we had a couple of guys today lose their edge a little bit.”
Junior cornerback Martin Jenkins could redshirt, Swinney said. He has been slow to recover from groin and hip flexor injuries.