Head coach Dabo Swinney met with the media Tuesday to preview Saturday’s opener at No. 12 Georgia. Below is the transcription of the first weekly press conference, courtesy of ASAP Sports. Archived video of the press conference is available by clicking the Play button in the photo to the right.
COACH SWINNEY: Well, it’s finally here. I know everybody is excited to get the season going, and I know I am. It’s exciting to get this first week here. Seems like it’s been an extra long camp for whatever reason, so really glad to get to game week.
I’m excited to see our team play. You know, just looking forward to seeing where we are. You can only get so far from an evaluation standpoint in practice, and you know, at some point, you’ve got to go play and kind of take that next step in the evaluation of just where you are and then grow and make adjustments as you go throughout the year.
But this is one of the best teams in the country in Georgia, and seeing how we match up against them this early in the season is going to be something that I’m anxious to see. They are very well‑coached. Coach Richt has been there forever, and he’s as good as there is in the business, that’s for sure. He has a great staff and they are very talented. They are very, very talented. They have recruited at a high level.
So the opener is always very difficult every single year. It Really doesn’t matter whom you play. The opener is difficult because you’ve got more time to prepare for one game than you do any game the rest of the year because you’ve got all spring, all summer to prepare for this opponent.
But the bigger challenge is just there’s so many unknowns because you don’t have any video evidence of really who this team is like you normally do when you’re playing.
We’ll have some video evidence next week of who they are, and as you go throughout the season, you can see an identity of a team and we don’t really have that opportunity because obviously this is a new year, new team. We can look at last year and all that kind of stuff, but you never really know until you go play.
So there’s a lot of unknowns and then when you throw in the fact that it’s a great opponent, a very talented opponent like Georgia, where they have had a lot of changes, as well, it makes it even more difficult.
This is a huge challenge for sure. Offensively they don’t have any changes as far as their staff or necessarily what they do to our knowledge, but the biggest thing when you look at Georgia and what they do offensively, they are probably as balanced as any team in the country. They do a great job of creating balance from a play calling standpoint and it makes it difficult. It makes it difficult to defend them.
They obviously have a new quarterback replacing Aaron Murray, but Hutson Mason played a good bit last year. He’s a senior. He’s got some confidence and he’s blessed to have some really good skill guys outside. His top two lead receivers are back. They have outstanding tight ends and then we all know what they have in the backfield. These are some big‑time NFL players who are playing in college in that backfield.
They do a good job of mixing the run and the pass and again creating the balance that allows them to be successful.
Defensively, they have a lot of veterans coming back, but there’s so many unknowns with them. We are going to have to do a great job in the flow of the game making good adjustments and making a really good job of communication from an offensive standpoint. They have a bunch of guys back that have played for them, but it’s an entirely different staff.
So you think you know but you never really know until you go play again; until you get three or four games of video evidence of who they are. They have some dynamic players. Some guys up front, James DeLoach and Sterling Bailey, those guys have really played well for them. I think Leonard Floyd and Jordan Jenkins, are two of the best players in the country. I don’t think there’s any question about it.
I think they are going to use them in a lot of different ways with their pressure packages. You’ll see those guys, leaders on the team in sacks last year, tackles for loss and that’s because they do a good job of bringing them off the edges and mixing them in with their blitz packages. Really, really good football players at the linebacker position.
In the secondary, they have moved a lot of guys around. but they do have some veteran guys in most positions. They might start a freshman at one safety position.
They have a junior college kid that came in that seems to be a guy that they are talking a lot about/ And then (Damian) Swann is a great, great player over at the other corner.
So they have got a bunch of guys over there. The big thing for us is just ball security and getting them targeted, because if we are going backwards with sacks and tackles for loss, it’s a long day in Athens, that’s for sure.
Special teams, they have a first-team All-SEC kicker in Mashall Morgan. They have two punters that they feel really, really good about, both those guys have punted a lot for them. And we all know they have speed as far as the return game goes.
The first goal is really what it is every year. I talk about our first goal is always try to win the opener, and that’s really all it is. Hopefully we can go down there and come out of the gates and play a high level of football. I think our team has prepared well in camp. We are relatively healthy and they are excited to play, but this is again a big challenge to go down to Athens and do the things that we’ve got to do to win the game. We are looking forward to the opportunity.
Q. Does it help that your coaching staff offensively has had the continuity the last four years?
COACH SWINNEY: Well, I think continuity is a good thing. But change is sometimes good, too. Our coaches are back but we have had some change (in personnel) and I think that brings good energy from a personnel standpoint. It’s good that we are all on the same page and we are able to quickly get going from an installation standpoint because we do have a lot of veterans on both sides of the ball.
I think offensively, we have 20 of our top 26 or seniors or juniors and sophomores, and I think 22 of our top 26 on defense are seniors and juniors and sophomores, and then all of our coaches are together. So that’s a positive. We are going to need that experience. We are going to need that continuity, if you will, in a game like this, because again, they are just a bunch of unknowns.
I wish I could tell you that I know exactly what they are going to do, but we don’t. We are going to have to do a great job of doing what we do and adjusting to wrinkles and what their game plan is going to be once we get into the game.
Q. Is there any value in looking at the film of Florida State defense from last year in terms of what the defensive coordinator might do?
COACH SWINNEY: Oh, yeah, it’s what you do as a coach. Any time you have coaching changes and things like that, you go and study everything. But they didn’t all come from Florida State. Coach Pruitt came from Florida State. I’ve known Jeremy forever. But he brought a coach from over here and he brought a over from here over. So they all collectively have their thoughts and ideas.
Kevin Sherrer played for me. He was one of my players when I was coaching at Alabama, and heck, he was the d‑coordinator at South Alabama. So he’s got his things and Jeremy has his things he wants to do. That’s what coaches do. They come collectively; Chad Morris didn’t just come in here and have all the answers. He Had a bunch of coaches that collectively put things together and that’s what you do.
So there’s always some unknowns from that standpoint. But we absolutely watched all the Florida State film, trying to just get a feel for schematic ideas.
Q. You have Martin Jenkins starting at cornerback, and Cordrea had been there spring and summer. What went into the decision? Is this a one-week thing?
COACH SWINNEY: Martin was out this spring (injury). He was not participating in spring but had a great summer. You know, he’s a fifth-year senior, veteran guy, and Cordrea was the starter coming out of spring and the starter going into camp, and is really going to be a great player for us. He’s going to be a great player this year.
We just felt like Martin earned the opportunity to be the starter. I am not surprised. Again, here is a fifth‑year senior that’s really tough‑minded and very focused on the details. He’s got a lot of knowledge, a lot of water under the bridge and he’s a really good player. He’s healthy for the first time in a long time. You know, he earned it.
Q. Is he 100 percent healthy?
COACH SWINNEY: Yeah. Looks great.
Q. Any nerves from Cole Stoudt with the excitement building up for his first game as a starter?
COACH SWINNEY: I’d like to sense some nerves from Cole. Cole is just kind of like that all the time (indicating flatline). You all deal with him, and you all know how he is. He’s just kind of the same guy. Doesn’t really matter.
I remember when Tajh got knocked out against Boston College when Cole was a freshman. I remember the conspiracy that Tajh was out for the year and everybody was lying after that game. Everybody thought he was like deeply injured.
But I remember Cole coming in; it was his freshman year and here is a true freshman, and we’re in a tough ballgame here. We’ve got a ways to go. He just, said all right, let’s go. But that’s Cole. That’s just his demeanor. That’s his personality, and guys have to be who they are.
I think he’s very confident because he’s prepared very well. And I think he’s confident because when he has had opportunities to play, he’s played well. You know, how does he do Saturday night, we’re all going to find out. But as far as him walking around, nervous or anything like that, I don’t sense that from him.
Q. What main key do you see in Cole having a good game on Saturday?
COACH SWINNEY: Take care of the ball. Play within the system. Be a decision maker; be a good decision maker like we need him to be. That’s critical. That’s the key thing. Because if we’re giving these guys a short field, that’s probably a long night.
Q. Is there an ideal time for Deshaun Watson to play? Do you have a scripted time in place or is it just going to be ‑‑
COACH SWINNEY: I’m going to tell you exactly when it is, right now. (smile).
The perfect time is when we put him in. That’s the perfect time. When we put him in, that’s the perfect time to put him in.
Q. I know you say that it’s the opener and the opener is always important. Is there any additional importance put on the fact that this is a marquis game, and when we are talking about the college football playoffs, to get there, when you look back on it, this might be one of the games that either includes a team or eliminates a team?
COACH SWINNEY: Who knows. You have no idea. You may think you’re playing a marquis game you and win it, and then that team lace an egg the rest of the year. I mean, you have no idea.
All you can do is just get ready for that game and every game, treat every game as a marquis game when you’re trying to think about the bigger picture from that standpoint. Every game is huge and every game will count when it’s all said and done. Not just this one.
I mean, God forbid we go down there and lose the game, but if we do, Georgia is not in the playoff, and we are not out of it. It’s a long season. It’s a long way to go, and vice versa. But we win the game, let’s don’t punch our ticket to Dallas just yet. We’ve got a long way to go and a long season.
Every game is critical. You just look at our conference play. I mean last year, you had 11 winning teams; 11 teams that went to Bowl games. I mean, it’s a challenge to go through your schedule.
And so when you start thinking about, this affects that, you’ve got to just play that game, put everything you’ve got into it, and whatever results you get, learn and grow from it and move on to the next one.
Q. Do you think the playoff system will encourage more Georgia/Clemson kind of matchups?
COACH SWINNEY: I think so, because you’re dealing with human beings, and I think that ultimately, it’s going to skew a little bit more towards what you see in the basketball tournament. It’s a big deal with the basketball tournament. You see some of these teams that are 22‑5 or whatever, and they don’t get in. But this team over here that’s 19‑7, they get in. Well, I mean, their schedule of play is a big part of it.
And so yeah, I think so. Personally I wish we played Georgia and South Carolina every year. It would just make life easy. Not competitively, but it would make life easy from a scheduling standpoint, and it would be great for our fans. That would be my preference.
I think you play Georgia every year, you play South Carolina every year, you play your conference schedule, hey, you can get through that, you’ve got a chance to ‑‑ nobody is going to say, hey, you don’t play anybody. And I think it’s the same, to be honest with you, for them, as well.
But everybody’s got to do their own scheduling. But for us ‑‑ and that was one of the reasons we wanted to stay with eight games is we do play South Carolina and we want to have that flexibility of playing somebody outside of our footprint as far as our conference.
And with Notre Dame coming in, it gives us some flexibility and being able to go and play Auburn for a couple years or whoever it may be, I think that’s a positive when it’s all said and done.
Q. Am I right in assuming that you like the playoff system?
COACH SWINNEY: I do. I love the Bowl system. I’ve always been a proponent of the Bowl system. I think it’s been great for college football, for this level.
And everything ‑ most of us draw, opinions from our experiences. Just my experience as a player, my experience as a coach in the Bowl system has been awesome, it really has. It’s been great. I certainly didn’t want to lose that, and that was the big thing with me, and I think it keeps our regular season very important.
I mean, four games doesn’t really taint that, or four teams doesn’t really taint that.
But all of a sudden, you go to eight, you go to 12, you go to 16, well, then, all of a sudden, hey, you can lose two or three games, and its a different deal.
I think this system really just puts so much emphasis on every single game during the regular season.
And I like the fact that they move the Playoff games to the 31st and the 1st. I think that’s great. So they didn’t extend the season, but yet we kind of combine the best of both worlds. I think they got it right. I thought the BCS worked right for the most part to be honest when you, and I know everybody always argued about the third team and now they are going to argue about the fifth team or whatever.
But come on, with four teams, we’re going to get it right, I really believe that. I think that, you know, expands it a little bit, maybe gives teams a little more flexibility, a little more room for error than maybe in past years. But I think it combines the best of both worlds and just is going to make college football that much more popular than it already is.
Q. Would you like it to go from four to eight?
COACH SWINNEY: Personally, I think first of all, you get into extending the season, it’s a whole different dynamic. We already have playoffs. Every week is a playoff and then we have to play a conference championship game on top of that and then we have to go win a championship ‑‑ I just think the model will change drastically from a college football standpoint, and that’s ‑‑ I’m not in favor of that. If that’s the way it ends up, then that’s the way it ends up. Hey, we’ll play with whatever rules we’ve got. But I think this really is a good model.
Q. What’s been your experience at Sanford Stadium?
COACH SWINNEY: I’ve been there 1990 as a player (at Alabama). We got beat. I think we were up 10 with about nine minutes to go. It was Coach Stallings first year. We started out 0‑3 that year. Not exactly how you want to start your career out at Alabama, 0‑3. That was a rough start my sophomore year.
I remember it well because we were up, I believe it was ten, with about nine ‑‑ maybe not quite nine minutes to go and got beat and we had 12 men on the field one time, stopped them down there on third down, but had 12 men on the field and they got a new set of downs and scored.
We played them in ’94, a big shootout in Tuscaloosa, Eric Zeier, Jay Barker. I was coaching then. Then n ’95, we went over there and beat them. I believe that’s the last time I’ve been to Athens as a coach was ’95. I don’t think we played them after that.
Then ironically, I went over there in 2001 the year I was out of coaching, that’s the only college game that I went to those two years I was out of coaching. I went to the Georgia/Tennessee game.
Neil Callaway was coaching at Georgia, who I had coached with at Alabama, and Woody McCorvey was coaching at Tennessee. So, I met up with Neil, got me some passes and all that kind of stuff and had a chance to kind of get up close view of the Georgia/Tennessee game in 2001.
That’s the last time I’ve been there other than just driving through Athens. My sister‑in‑law lived there for a couple years. My brother‑in‑law got his Ph.D from Athens in finance. So I spent a couple years over there visiting over the last decade, visiting my sister‑in‑law from time to time.
Q. When you look at both teams’ depth charts, there are a lot of guys on your side that Georgia offered and went after, and same for Georgia’s side, that you guys offered and went after. Is there another program that comes to mind that maybe you guys have recruited head‑to‑head with more?
COACH SWINNEY: Well, I think we’re similar programs in a lot of ways, but I just think location. Where we are, obviously we are closer to Georgia. It would take me five hours to get to Myrtle Beach. I can be at my home in Alabama in five hours, less than five hours.
So I think just the location, there’s however many millions of people in Atlanta, two hours from here. So Georgia is a state that we recruit like it’s in state. Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, we just treat that as kind of one state to be honest with you and try to really recruit very, very hard in that area. We’ve had a lot of success with Georgia kids that have come here.
So it’s just a natural thing that we are going to spend a lot of time recruiting against Georgia. There’s just so many in that state. I think we’re similar in a lot of ways as far as the type of campuses that we have and things like that; whereas, you know, everybody thinks we recruit head‑to‑head against South Carolina. We really don’t a whole lot.
Every now and then, you’ll have a kid in this state that truly is undecided, but not often. Most of the time, first of all, we don’t have as many in this state, but most of the time a kid is either Clemson or he’s South Carolina if he’s going to stay in‑state, and it’s usually pretty obvious.
And then you have such differences in the campuses. I mean, they are just very different. Most of the time if a kid really likes Clemson, he’s probably not going to like Columbia. And if he likes Columbia, he’s probably not going to like Clemson. That part of it, we really don’t recruit against them as much as we do Georgia. I think Georgia, again, the location, and then just the type of campuses that they are.
Q. Seemed like you and Coach Richt have similar values ‑‑
COACH SWINNEY: Me and Coach Spurrier, we’re a lot alike, too. (Laughter) we really are. We’re more alike than y’all may think.
I think Georgia has a good staff. I think Coach (Mark) Richt does a great job. But I think it’s just a natural recruiting rivalry. I think it’s probably always been that way, not just now. It’s way before Coach Richt and me.
I imagine when Coach (Danny) Ford was here in the 80s they probably recruited against Georgia pretty hard and heavy. So I don’t think that’s a big shocker. (Clemson had 22 players on its 1981 National Championship team from Georgia).
Q. Talking to Coach Bowden this morning, he said he thinks defense wins this football game. Would you agree with that, and does it give you a sense of comfort knowing that you have a defense that you think at this point you can rely on?
COACH SWINNEY: No, I don’t agree with that. I think teams win this game. I think a team, the best team wins it. Every now and then you may get a score on defense. Defensive guys need the offensive guys and we need special teams to be a factor.
So I think teams win. I don’t think offense wins. I don’t think defense wins. I don’t think special teams ‑‑ teams win. That’s what I hope we’ll be is a true team. But obviously you have strengths within your team every single year and sometimes they stay the same, sometimes they change.
You know, there’s no question that a big strength of our team this year is our defensive personnel and the experience that we have with that personnel.
Q. How nice is it that over the last couple of years, that you can say that now? There was a time three or four years ago where the defense wasn’t thought on the strength of this team but that’s really been a lot of the conversation surrounding you guys during this off‑season, which is certainly a change.
COACH SWINNEY: My first two years, defense was the strength of our team. In 2009 and 2010, no question defense was the strength of our team. We were pretty good, especially in 2010. We were pretty good.
In 2011, we really kind of started over defensively. All these seniors we got, they were all freshmen in 2011 and they were playing. They were all having to play.
So they just have kind of grown up and matured through that process. We weren’t great in 2011 but any stretch. That was definitely a step back for us defensively. You know, I think a lot of that is just youth and inexperience in some key areas. Depth was an issue.
In 2012, we got a little better. We got a little better. We weren’t, you know, Top‑25 yet but we got better and made improvements in a lot of areas. In this past year in 2013, we were Top‑25 in about everything out there.
So, you know, I think this year, we got a chance to improve upon that, and so I hope that’s a trend that we can continue. And we’ve had time really to kind of build our program and our structure, and from a recruiting standpoint and building the personnel the way we want it, we’re going to lose six seniors up front this year.
I’m sure next year there will be a little bit of a transition there, but hopefully we have got the right kind of guys within our program that are getting some experience and some seasoning that will be ready to kind of step up and fill some of those voids next year without having to really start over with a bunch of freshmen.
Q. The talk about Cole waiting his turn, you have other guys that have played in a lot of games, but they haven’t started before. What’s that going to be like to have those guys run out there with the first team Saturday?
COACH SWINNEY: You know, I’m excited for them. It’s great to see guys hang in there, persevere, continue to grow and get better each year.
You see a guy like Martin Jenkins who is ‑‑ Lord have mercy, he has been through a lot in his five years; and to see him come out the other side and to see a guy like Tavaris Barnes who is very, very talented, I think he’s going to have a great year for us. I really do.
To see him grow up ‑‑ talent has never been a problem with Tavaris. It was just consistency and using his talent. He’s really improved in a lot of those areas.
And then Tony Steward, his biggest issue obviously was health and really just getting back to being who we know he is. Man, he’s had a great spring, great summer, great fall camp. I’m really happy for him and just hopeful that he can stay healthy this year because you just want to see a guy be able to reap the benefits of hard work and perseverance.
Some of the guys that you mentioned, all the same thing. Reid Webster, I mean, here is a guy that has been a backup, and I just think he made up his mind that he really wanted to be the guy, or one of the guys. He just took it upon himself, he’s played literally both tackles and both guards, and he’s a good center.
So I’m really proud of him. He’s just graduated for the second time. He’s got two degrees. He graduated after three years with the first degree and just graduated again a couple weeks ago with his second degree. He’s a guy that I think has absolutely exhausted the moment in his life; just getting the moment out of the opportunity that he’s had, and I think he wanted more from a football side of it, and he’s made his mind up and done an excellent job, and I’m very confident that he’s going to perform well for us.
Q. What is your confidence level in your offensive line going into this game, particularly with David (Beasley) having to sit?
COACH SWINNEY: David, we’ll miss David. He’s a proven guy. He’s a very physical presence when he’s on the field. But I think we’ve got really good people. I think we have got eight guys that I’m confident can go play and a couple more that probably can help us depending on the situation.
But I think we’ve got eight guys that can win for us without David. There is only one guy in there that really doesn’t have much experience, and that’s (Tyrone) Crowder. He’s a redshirt freshman but he’s a good football player. You know, he’s a guy that if we have to put him in there, I think he’ll perform just fine.
The biggest thing is, everything with us starts from the inside out, and you have got a guy like Ryan Norton; and Jay Guillermo, I think I’m just as confident in Jay. I think Jay deserves to play, whether we put him in at center or he plays guard. Jay deserves to play.
Q. Would you guess that this may be the best opportunity to have that balance that you mentioned that Georgia is able to do?
COACH SWINNEY: Well, we do, we strive for that. Sometimes it can get skewed. We go into every game, every season, really trying to have balance in what we do.
And sometimes it gets skewed because of what they are giving us. You know, our system is built where ‑‑ last year’s touchdown to Sammy Watkins, the play right after the long 75‑yard touchdown that I still wake up seeing with Gurley; the very next play, when we scored whatever, however long that was, 60, 70 yards, that was a run call. I mean, that was a run call.
Tajh Boyd got us in the right play. And we are all celebrating on the sideline, great play. Everybody’s blocking run except Sammy and Tajh. Our system is coached that way. Our system is built to where you take what’s there. Sometimes you’re reading first left and sometimes it’s second level and sometimes it’s third level.
That’s just an example sometimes where you may ‑‑ and there’s a lot of other examples. Last year in the Bowl game, a bunch of those passes, a bunch of those passes, were run calls. And so our quarterback has the freedom and flexibility within our system to take what’s there.
But we go into every game, every season, trying to create that balance. We have to have a physical, hard‑nosed running presence. We have to have 245 and that’s what we want. But we’re got to go to be the village idiot, either. We are going to do what we’ve got to do to win.
Q. Two tight end questions. How is Stanton Seckinger doing after last night? And Jordan Leggett being the starter, he got talked about a lot last year because of his lazy comments. Has he gotten better that way?
COACH SWINNEY: Oh, he’s had an outstanding spring and ball. I think Jordan Leggett is going to be a special player. He’s still developing into that, but I think that his motor, his sense of urgency, his understanding of the bigger picture has changed dramatically from where we were at this time last year.
I mean, it’s amazing what a difference a year makes, it really is. Especially what we do, you’re dealing with young people, and this time last year, I had guys ‑‑ and Jayron Kearse didn’t know what he was doing; Jadar Johnson didn’t have any confidence and didn’t know what he was doing, and you’re getting ready to go play Georgia.
Q. Stanton Seckinger’s Health?
COACH SWINNEY: Stanton’s fine. He looked good last night. He’s ready to go. He’s ready to go. But Leggett is sharp.
And Cooper, this time last year, same thing. He was just coming off that injury and trying to get ready to play. And man, he’s another one that’s I think going to be a valuable, valuable part of what we do this year. Very strong physically and mentally sharp and healthy.
Q. Is Cooper still your best blocking tight end or is Leggett?
COACH SWINNEY: No, Cooper is definitely the most physical guy we have. I think Leggett and Jay Jay McCullough and Stanton, they have all made big strides in that area.
But they are not ‑‑ Cooper is a fifth‑year senior, 250‑something pound guy that he’s just built a little bit differently right now, but a lot of that comes from experience. Wasn’t that way when he got here but I think he’s really become a good player at the point of attack for us.
And I think Leggett and McCullough and Stanton are going to get there, too. But they are a lot better than they were last year but they are not finished products by any means.
Q. You’ve been asked this before, but for the last six weeks, seven weeks, Coach Morris has been on this we are not going to respect and we have to play with a chip on our shoulder. I noticed yesterday he ratcheted it down and he seems to be just in game week mode, very relaxed. Did you share any of that or do you think that was just purely a motivational tool?
COACH SWINNEY: That’s just his opinion. He’s with the guys every single day, a close‑knit group. I mean, for however long, since January, that’s all anybody talks about is who we don’t have.
We get reminded of that over and over and over, you know, but there’s a lot of guys that we do have that have also been a huge part of winning a bunch of games. I think that’s just his way of just kind of challenging his guys a little bit. But it’s game week. All the talking is over with. It’s time to go play and we’ll see where we are.
Next Tuesday when I’m in here with y’all, y’all will have something specific to ask me about Saturday night, I’m sure. I don’t think it’s all going to go perfect; even if we win, I’m sure there’s going to be some bad mixed in there.
So we won last year and we had five rushes for 160 yards or 167 yards or something, five plays. There was plenty of bad in last year’s game, too. Found a way to win, and I’m sure it will be the same this year as far as win or lose. There will be a lot of good and there will be a lot of bad.
But I think it’s going to be a great ballgame. I think two teams that want to get out to a good start, obviously they are playing at home and the energy that comes with that; I’d be shocked if it’s not a humdinger.
Q. Is Cole in the category you just described? Because people haven’t seen him a whole lot on the field, do you think people underestimate how much actual experience he has?
COACH SWINNEY: He’s way more experienced than Tajh Boyd was when he was a sophomore.
I remember we had to a Florida State, Auburn, Virginia Tech; it was a very difficult challenging schedule. Bunch of freshman playing a lot of different areas, and you know, Tajh got better throughout the year.
Its different in that Cole is very talented but he’s got more experience to draw upon than what people give him credit for. But that’s just a natural thing.
So you lose a guy like Tajh‑‑ and I think it’s the same thing with Georgia, they are losing Aaron Murray. But hey, Mason is pretty good now. He runs the ball better than you might think he does, and he’s very, very capable. I’m sure he’s very confident, too, because he did get that experience, little bit of experience of being the guy and the pressure that comes with that. I think they are very similar situations in that standpoint. But Cole is a talented player, and I’d be surprised if he doesn’t play well.
Q. How did you guys find him ‑‑
COACH SWINNEY: I can’t remember how we first ‑‑ somebody sent us a clip or something. I don’t remember. Might have been his dad. I can’t remember who sent us the clip of him.
We were looking for a guy and I remember sitting down with Billy Napier and Billy liked him. I knew who he was right off the gate because I knew his dad. His dad was the old Birmingham Stallions quarterback. And two years of USFL football, I was a high schooler, would I go watch the Stallions play all the time because I could get in free because my trainer at the school was the trainer for the Stallions. I’d go watch them all the time.
I remember Cliff Stoudt very well and then watched the tape and you saw this big, old gangly long‑legged guy, probably only 185, 190 pounds maybe. So just he was a late bloomer and had good potential, and he was kind of, you know, what we were looking for at the time. So it just worked out.
It just happened to be he was from up in Ohio. I remember flying in up there because I landed at the Ohio State University airport. First time I had ever been there. And he was probably only about 20 minutes from campus, Dublin Coffman High School up there but I’m really glad we got him.
Unfortunately as I’ve said many times we were not able to redshirt him. He was the backup the day he got here as a true freshman. But you know, he’s done a great job for us. He’s a team guy and he’s worked very hard to control the things that he controls. You look at his development physically. I’ve seen his development mentally. Maturity‑wise, academically, everything, he’s a guy that’s all in and committed to Clemson, and he’s done everything he can to maximize his experience.
Now he’s got to go play well as the guy and I think we’ve got a dynamic that’s going to really produce good quarterback play in that you have a senior with a high level of urgency to prepare and to play well and then you’ve got this freshman over here who is not just content to go stand on the sideline. He’s trying to get better every day. He’s trying to get on the field, and so he’s bringing this ‑‑ and they are great kids and they get along so well.
It’s just a good situation that at the end of the day what do we want? We want good quarterback play. And I think that dynamic will help produce that as we go throughout the year.
Q. Is there any sense of perhaps concern with Watson if he gets into the game, that he’s a young kid, has to make the most of his opportunities, and might fall into category of making mistakes because of trying to do too much because of limited play, or have you talked to him about staying within himself when and if his number gets called?
COACH SWINNEY: No concern. All we can do is evaluate what we see in practice. He’s demonstrated great poise in practice and I don’t expect that to change.
You know, you can’t be afraid to play. Commit to play and you live with the results.
Q. The guys you suspended for this game months ago, how have they held up in the off‑season during camp? Have they kept their minds in the game and was there ever a thought that, hey, if these guys are doing what I’ve asked and doing well, that, you know, maybe I’ll let them play.
COACH SWINNEY: There was some thought on their side of that, and they have done well. I’m very proud of those guys, really am. They have had good effort, good energy and probably will take them with us if they want to go. I’ll leave that up to them.
But good guys, and like I said, sometimes you just have things within your team that you have to address, and I think you have to protect your culture a little bit. And sometimes it’s sitting a guy down and that’s just the way it will always be. I’m sure there will be something else as we go throughout the year that you deal with from time to time. That’s always the case.
But these guys, sometimes the quickest way to get their attention is to let them sit on that sideline. Sure wish I had them but hey, that’s their consequence for a decision they make. But hey, they have handled it well, no issues and they have practised well and be excited to get those guys back. We need them.
Q. You get to see Gurley for the second straight year ‑‑ how do you rank him amongst running backs you’ve coached against in your career?
COACH SWINNEY: He’s a beast. He’s been against a lot of good ones over the years. Saw a bunch of good ones when I was at Alabama, both at Alabama and Auburn. Saw a bunch of great ones at Tennessee. The Jamal Lewises, those cats that they had up there at Tennessee, I’ve seen a bunch of great backs.
Some of them that has been down there at Florida. Seen some great ones at Florida State over years. I mean, a bunch of backs.
I coached against Eddie George when I was at Alabama. I’ve never seen a guy like him, ever. I remember going specifically, we had a Bowl function and I’m a young coach and I remember going to the Bowl function and both teams are there and this guy ‑‑ I broke down the film and knew him better than the coaches knew him, personnel. I remember seeing this guy and I’m like, we are fixing to get our butts handed to us. I mean, who is tackling that guy? He looked like a defensive end playing tailback. Just unbelievable.
From time to time, you come across guys like that. I think Gurley, he’s a unique guy. The combination that he has, just the size, the speed, the strength. I perceive him to be a great worker. He seems that way. He’s got a big motor to him and he’s just unique from a total package standpoint. Other guys are unique for maybe one thing here or there.
But he’s the total package. He’s a great receiver. He led them in receiving touchdowns last year. Everybody talks about him running the ball. I think he had like six touchdown catches to lead the team, maybe 30‑something catches. And he missed several games and still rushed for almost a thousand yards. He’s just a dynamic player.
You know what, Marshall, he’s not far behind him. He just doesn’t have some of the measurables that Gurley has but Marshall is a great, great back, a great back and it’s unfortunate that he got hurt last year. The youth that they have, they have got some really, really good freshmen, but just the combination of the size and the speed is rare.
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