As recruiting continues and winter workouts begin, Dabo Swinney has a smile on his face and a spring in his step.
He's convinced he's got the ship headed in the right direction, and that best is still to come for the Tiger football program.
As Swinney surveys the landscape and begins putting the pieces together for Clemson's 2013 Tigers, he likes the foundation that he sees.
"I think we've got a good football team," Swinney said. "We're going to be as good in the trenches as we've been for a long time. This will probably be the first time, up front, that we're going to have the right combination of talent, depth and experience. To me, that's the most exciting thing.
"And we've still got some youth. We're not going to have any seniors on our defensive line. Zero. I'm excited about that. And we're only going to have two seniors on the offensive line ( Brandon Thomas and Tyler Shatley), and we're going to have a lot of guys who are going to be even better."
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Swinney said the Tigers' defensive line developed and improved over the course of the season because of competition. He sees a similar process beginning to take place on the offensive line.
"Take a guy like Isaiah Battle, a true freshman, playing left tackle against LSU - he's just going to grow tremendously from that, and on through another off-season and another spring," Swinney said. "It's the same with Kalon Davis, Ryan Norton, Eric Mac Lain, (Patrick) Destefano and (Jay) Guillermo. We've got a lot of young players I'm really excited about.
"We had more competition in our defensive line this year, with all the freshmen and sophomores, it was very competitive and we were able to play a lot of guys. That was one of the things that helped us win 11 games. On the offensive line, we didn't quite have that. We had a pretty good first group and a couple of guys close, and then it was a pretty big drop - not in talent, but in dependability. I think that gap is going to close tremendously and that we're going to have a lot of competition in our offensive line, just like we have on the defensive line."
Swinney sees no personnel gaps when he looks at the Tigers' offensive skill positions and kicking game.
"I like our team," he said. "We've got a good quarterback, we've got a good group of backs. I thought Hot Rod (McDowell) had a great year this year, and proved that he can be a guy for you. We've got to replace Nuk (Hopkins), but we've got some quality people who've just been waiting for more opportunity. Charone Peake can play, and this is his chance to step up.
"We'll be fine at receiver and we'll be fine at tight end. We've got Sam (Cooper) coming back as a much more experienced player, and Darrell (Smith) coming back as a valuable part of our team. And we have Jay Jay McCullough and Jordan Leggett, who are two exciting young talents who'll have a chance to develop their strength, and we've got to figure roles out for them.
"And I like our kicking situation. We've got (Chandler) Catanzaro back, and he's gone from the least to the greatest throughout his career, and he'll continue to be a consistent performer. I'm excited about Bradley Pinion, and we've got our snappers back (Phillip Fajgenbaum and Michael Sobeski). There are just a lot of good things in place."
With a solid foundation in place, Swinney said the 2013 will define themselves by the way they work throughout the winter, spring and summer.
"I told them (during the team's first full-squad meeting) that every team is different and you've got to be willing to pay the price," Swinney said. "I think our guys understand that the margin for error is small when you're trying to be elite. They get that. And I think they have the right attitude of belief."