CLEMSON – Back at full strength for the first time since mid-April, Dabo Swinney feels pretty good about Clemson’s tight end situation.
Just a few weeks ago, he couldn’t have said the same, where he went into the Georgia opener with two underclassmen and a converted fullback at the position.
TE rotation strong, Kalon Davis a starter candidate
“They all have different skillsets and do different things,” Swinney said. “Coop is obviously a guy we have great confidence in. He’s been there. The big thing with him is him getting his confidence back.”
“Coop,” otherwise known as redshirt junior Sam Cooper, completed his incredibly quick ACL tear recovery with redshirt freshman quarterback Chad Kelly against S.C. State two weeks ago.
He says having a partner going through that rehab helped more than anything.
“That was unbelievable,” Cooper said. “You don’t want anyone to go through that with you, but to have that and finding a silver lining in him pushing me and me constantly competing with him.
“I really attribute that to how fast we both returned.”
Cooper was without a target in his first game back, but he paired his first catch and touchdown against N.C. State – lining up at tackle and slipping out for an 11-yard touchdown reception.
“Having a long summer of recovery, kind of getting back into the swing of things and scoring a touchdown against N.C. State definitely felt great,” Cooper said.
He reenters the mix in an interesting mix of talent at tight end, but feeling 100 percent, Cooper says he’s keeping the same mentality he had all offseason.
“It really just comes down to how I can help the team,” he said. “That started out this summer as working out with the guys. I was taken out of the lineup and my role was to be that mentor for them. Now, it’s what plays can I make and how can I make them.”
Redshirt sophomore Stanton Seckinger still occupies the top spot on the depth chart, hauling in five catches for 54 yards and a touchdown this season.
“Seckinger, (the extra playing time has) been great for him because he’s had to be guy and he’s had all this quality experience,” Swinney said. “He’s fast and he’s more of that wideout type of body, but big enough to bring the tight end presence.”
Freshmen Jordan Leggett, also a converted wide receiver, and Jay Jay McCullough, a converted running back, will get their shot down the stretch as well.
“The two guys that we want to get going are Leggett and McCullough,” Swinney said. “They’ll get there. McCullough is still buying in. Leggett is still working his way to being the confident guy before he got banged up. I think all those guys will make contributions throughout the year.”
Safety in numbers: Both first-year starters, Clemson safeties Travis Blanks and Robert Smith have played 85 percent of the Tigers’ defensive snaps this season. Last year, senior safeties Rashard Hall and Jonathan Meeks played 88 percent of the snaps.
This week, Dabo Swinney identified building depth behind the new duo as the key defensively going forward.
Wake Forest presents multiple looks
“The most difficult (transition) has been playing 80 snaps a game at a high consistent level every single snap,” Blanks said. “That takes intensity and takes great urgency and takes great focus. Nothing can simulate except for that itself.”
Second-year Tigers defensive coordinator Brent Venables is looking to an almost all-freshman group for the needed depth, which includes redshirt Ronald Geohaghan and first-years Jayron Kearse, Jadar Johnson and Korrin Wiggins. Junior cornerback Bashaud Breeland is another emergency option.
“It’s a group of guys that need to show maturity and competitiveness and make an investment,” Venables said. “When you push the envelope, you find out if guys are afraid and in a position of keeping their head above water. Some guys really want that moment and other guys would rather not. They may say they do, but when push comes to shove – it’s very difficult and challenging.”
Deacs enter house of horrors: Wake Forest’s futility – making the three hour-plus drive down to Clemson – borders on incredulous.
Clemson has won six in a row and 27 of the last 30 matchups in Death Valley. Overall in the series, the Tigers own their second-best win total versus any opponent (60). In 1981, the Tigers set an ACC record for points against the Deacs in an 82-24 win.
In the Dabo Swinney era, that fate hasn’t changed. In fact, it’s actually gotten worse.
Facing Tommy Bowden’s Clemson teams, Jim Grobe’s Deacs kept it within 10 or less points three times in Death Valley and tripped up the Tigers three times in Winston-Salem.
Against Swinney, the Deacs are 0-4 with a three touchdown average margin of defeat.
“Since I've been here we haven't beat Clemson in Death Valley,” Grobe said this week. “This is probably a year that is as tough a year to beat them as any year I've been here. They're as talented as possibly any team in the country and very well coached. It will take a great effort on our part.
“We've had some great games down there, and they've worn us out a couple times.”