Still preaching 'All-In,' Dabo Swinney pushing offensive linemen past inconsistency

Kalon Davis, Isaiah Battle among players still seeking 'focus, dependability' breakthrough

Football - Isaiah Battle and Robby Caldwell

Photo by Mark Crammer

Football - Isaiah Battle and Robby Caldwell

'All-in.'

It's been Dabo Swinney's nutshell message since he took the reins of the Clemson football program midway through the 2008 season.

He preached it then, and he's still preaching it now.

Some get it, some don't, and some take more time than others.

"It can be the most frustrating part of coaching," said Swinney recently. "Unfortunately, I've been around guys who have all the ability in the world, but you just couldn't win with them. At the end of the day, coaches are going to play the guys who give them a chance to win.

"It's not all about who's the tallest or fastest or who can jump the highest. If it was all about that, I never would have played. It's all about who's going to be dependable and accountable and responsible."

As Swinney has watched the development of Clemson's offensive line this spring, he's observed two players still struggling to make 'all-in' their every-day, ever-play mantra.

Isaiah Battle is a 6-6, 280-pound rising sophomore who's being groomed for the Tigers' left tackle spot. Kalon Davis, a rising redshirt junior about to enter his fourth year in the program, is a 6-5, 330-pound guard who is getting close to 'now or never' time in his career.

When Swinney talks about Battle and offensive coordinator Chad Morris talks about Davis, they say much the same thing: commitment is every bit as important as ability.

"Isaiah just has to have more of a sense of urgency to him," Swinney said. "He's got all the talent, but I can't say that I'm over-the-top pleased with his performance this spring. He's just been inconsistent.

"It's all about having the focus and drive every day to be your best. Until he commits to that, he's not going to be what he's capable of."

Morris, meanwhile, describes Davis - who came out of spring practice of 2012 as the Tigers' starting left guard, only to lose his job to David Beasley during preseason camp - as a player who has "good days and bad days."

"For Kalon, it's got to mean something to him," Morris said. "He's got to have that drive. He's been inconsistent at times, and we've got to get away from that. That's sort of become his trademark. He has the tools, but you've got to have the heart and the drive and the want-to."

There's still time for Davis, and plenty of time for Battle, Swinney said.

He cited Brandon Thomas, the Tigers' only senior offensive lineman, as an example.

"I'd say Isaiah is way ahead of where Brandon was in his second year - it's not even close," Swinney said. "Brandon redshirted his first year, the next year he was a compete non-factor, and then his redshirt sophomore year he started to see the light. He really came on last season.

"It's frustrating to see guys who have it all but can't figure it out. Sometimes they'll look back and say 'why did I wait so long' to commit to this. Dwayne Allen is a perfect example of that."

There is a flip-side, as well.

"And then there are the guys who give you every single ounce of what they've got every day, and you see them just getting better and better and better," Swinney said. "That, to me, is the essence of coaching - guys like Phillip Price and Rod McDowell, or Dante Stewart, a walk-on (defensive back) here who gives you every ounce, every day. He's so committed from a knowledge standpoint and technical standpoint."

Swinney said that for coaches, pushing is part of the process.

"For a young player like Isaiah, it's our responsibility to help them get there," said Swinney. "But at some point, they have to get up out of the wheelchair and get on their own two feet. When they get here, we have to push 'em around a little bit. Then we'll get up on crutches. But at some point, they have to get up and go."

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Comments » 3

TigerFan95 writes:

It seems like Clemson has been recruiting a lot of “wheelbarrow” players like Davis and Battle at OL for quite some time now. Why are they not recognizing these character traits earlier? Perhaps there needs to be a change in their recruiting process.

lhaselden writes:

You mean guys like Brandon? A lot of guys and college student in general do not realize how much wor it will take to succeed at the next level... It takes an adjustment for most of them some it takes 1 years some 3 some never make it. It is a difficult prediction to make. All programs miss on some... We are not missing on many under Dabo.

SoCalTiger writes:

I guess I still don't see the benefits of calling players out and pointing out their weaknesses in a new article. The whole "get up out of the wheelchair" analogy was not necessary. I have scratched my head at times with what Dabo says, but I hope this strategy works.

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