'They know how to win, but more importantly, they know how to prepare to win'

Dabo Swinney; 'This is a group that wants to be great. Our job is to help them get there'

The Tigers drill at their first bowl game football practice session on Dec. 8th

Photo by Mark Crammer

The Tigers drill at their first bowl game football practice session on Dec. 8th

To Dabo Swinney, spring football is all about the journey.

It's time for a new team, with new leaders, new strengths, and new challenges to go to work.

The Clemson players who'll move from conditioning drills to the practice field on March 6 have something of significance to build on.

"This is a young team, with only 10 seniors on scholarship, but it's also a bunch of guys who've won 21 games," Swinney said Tuesday during a teleconference in which he previewed spring practice. "They know how to win, but more importantly, they know how to prepare to win. That's a process they understand because of what they've been through over the past couple of years.

"This is a group that wants to be great. Our job is to help them get there, by teaching them, encouraging them, and disciplining them."

Swinney said the players returning from 2012's 11-win team "understand that the margin for error is very small when you're trying to be one of those great, elite teams."

"There's no sense of satisfaction for these guys," he said. "I think that's a sign of good leadership and a group of guys who are focused on the right things."

As he looks at his team heading into spring practice, Swinney sees few obvious gaps.

The defensive secondary will be a priority area, although it's not much over half-strength, numbers wise, as seven signees won't arrive until summer.

But with Darius Robinson, Bashaud Breeland and Martin Jenkins back from injuries to man the corners, and Travis Blanks and Robert Smith moving into the starting safety spots, new position coach Mike Reed will be able to sketch out a framework to build on during preseason camp.

However, one player that won't be on the field when the Tigers begin practice is Garry Peters, who came on strong at the end of last season as a fill-starter after others were injured.

Swinney said Peters will miss the Tigers' first few practice sessions as he adjusts his "focus and attitude."

Also missing from the returning crew will be quarterback Tony McNeal, who is giving up football after suffering his second ACL injury, and placekicker Ammon Lakip, who has returned home for the semester because of personal issues. It's possible that Lakip could rejoin the team in the fall.

Swinney announced one position switch, as rising junior Tra Thomas, who began his career as a defensive lineman, has moved to the offensive line, where he's working at center behind projected starter Ryan Norton, Jay Guillermo and Reid Webster.

Swinney said that rising junior Cole Stoudt will go into spring as the Tigers' No. 2 quarterback behind Tajh Boyd, but that he expects redshirting freshman Chad Kelly to "make things interesting."

On defense, Swinney said he believes the Tigers have a firm foundation in place on the defensive line and at linebacker.

"I think we've finally created the depth and talent that we need to be special at the linebacker position," Swinney said.

Overall, Swinney believes the Tigers have the pieces in place to make a championship run next fall.

"We have good experience coming back, and we've recruited well and have good talent," he said. "We're not hoping to have a good season - we're expecting to have a good season. But there's a lot more to it than talent and experience. It's commitment and paying the price during the winter, spring and summer.

"It's a journey that you go on every year. The January-to-March period is about getting ready; from April-to-June it's about transforming your team; and then July-to-September is prime time - that's when the lights are on. And then October-to-December is championship season.

"As long we'll stay focused on the day to day things that we've got to do to get where we want to go, we have the opportunity to be a special team."

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Comments » 4

MoncksTater writes:

Lets see how much improvement our defense has made this spring and summer...then start talking about winning championships. Our losses last year were both attributable to our lack of a stout defense , especially against the pass. I believe we have improved , and if we can get into that top 30ish type ranking defensively we could be a great team...dare I say "elite" ?

TUN writes:

Greg Wallace, can you give us any news on our new verbal commit Jake McCrary out of Miami, FL? So far we have six verbals all on offense.

lhaselden writes:

I think our defense will be a good deal better based on the front seven.. We lost Mallicah Goodman and Tig Willard and from the starting front seven but return a bunch of depth and experience. The secondary should be better if we can stay healthy one thing is certain we have more bodies in the secondary... I expect at least 2 of the freshmen to play a goo deal and at least one of them expects to start.

33dtb writes:

...."Swinney announced one position switch, as rising junior Tra Thomas, who began his career as a defensive lineman, has moved to the offensive line, where he's working at center behind projected starter Ryan Norton, Jay Guillermo and Reid Webster."...........

At least we are getting an EARLY start on patching holes in the O-Line.

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