Dabo Swinney putting spring emphasis not on 'what we do,' but 'how we do it'

Tigers kick off spring practice by planting a tombstone; coach is in no hurry to pick a quarterback

Football - Dabo Swinney

Photo by Mark Crammer

Football - Dabo Swinney

Firmly settled in, with one coordinator entering his fourth season and the other his third, Dabo Swinney is plenty satisfied with 'what the Tigers do' as they kicked off spring practice on Wednesday.

Doing it better remains an elusive and never-ending goal.

"Every coach is back. We've got great continuity and chemistry there, so it’s not as much about scheme,” Swinney said. “We have a lot of things to correct and learn from. Part of what spring ball is, is teaching off of last year as you go through your meetings. We structure spring ball based on what we need to correct.

"But there's also what we’ve done well and just the basics of who we are. We can’t get caught up in the X's and O's. We’ve got to do a great job of improving how we do things. I’m very comfortable with what we do, but we’ve got to get better at how we do it."

The Tigers opened their spring practice with a look back - a brief ceremony unveiling their Ohio State 'tombstone,' commemorating a victory over a nationally-ranked opponent away from home.

They then moved indoors for the first of 14 practices leading up to the Orange-White spring game on April 12.

For a first day, Swinney was pleased with what he saw.

"We've got a lot of work to do before we kick this thing off, but there was a lot of energy out there today," Swinney said. "We've got the makings of a good team, but we're a long way from that right now. You've got to start somewhere, and we'll take this back to the film room and start studying this year's team.

"It's exciting to get on with it."

Rising senior Cole Stoudt, as expected, got the first snaps at quarterback with the first team offense. He operated behind an offensive line comprised of Isaiah Battle at left tackle, Eric Mac Lain at left guard, Ryan Norton at center, Kalon Davis at right guard, and Shaq Anthony at right tackle.

Rising senior D.J. Howard got the first snaps at running back, followed by rising junior Zac Brooks.

Working on the second offensive line were Joe Gore at left tackle, David Beasley at left guard, Jay Guillermo at center, Reid Webster at right guard, and redshirt freshman Maverick Morris at right tackle.

Swinney said he's content to let the quarterback battle among Stoudt, redshirt sophomore Chad Kelly and first-semester freshman Deshaun Watson unfold at its own pace.

"We'll see what happens - it could separate, but I just don't know. That's to be determined," Swinney said. "You can't win the job in one practice and you can't lose it in one practice, and we still have a long way to go.

"We've got 15 days, and everything will be charted and graded. Everything counts. Then we'll sit down at the end of the spring and see where we are. Today was one day - a start - and there was good and bad for everybody out there."

Swinney said the process of starting over each year is one of the things that makes college football special.

"It’s always fun to start to build a new team - that's the great thing about college football, you really start over every year," he said. "This is in particular an exciting time for me because this is the most veteran team that I have had. I’m really, really excited about the leadership we have in place and the experience that comes with that leadership."

Swinney praised his staff and players for the preparation that allowed them to hit the field running on Wednesday.

"We’ve done a lot of self-evaluating, trying to get better," Swinney said. "We've really have studied everything in depth, both sides of the ball and special teams - everything that went right and wrong as ways to break our quality control down.

"I’m pleased with the players and how they’ve worked all January and February in what we call our 'Get Ready' phase. They've been getting ready, and they’ve done a great job. They’re chomping at the bit to get back out there and play some football.”

Despite having a large group of veteran players, Swinney said the Tigers will spend the first days of spring practice "starting over."

"The biggest thing is getting back to the basics, starting over," he said. "You have new players coming in your program every year, and you can’t assume anything. The challenge is that even though we have a lot of veterans, we've still have quite a few young guys we’ve got to get up to speed in some key spots. We’ve got to really keep those veterans engaged, and we have to do a good job of bringing those young guys along.”

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