|by David Hood|
CLEMSON – The Clemson football team returned to practice Monday morning in the indoor practice facility, minus many of the freshmen who had new student responsibilities elsewhere on campus.
The Tigers began their official preparation for the opener against Georgia – the scoreboard inside of the facility was counting down the days, hours and seconds – but the freshmen were on head coach Dabo Swinney’s mind as he told the media which of the newcomers might see the field this season and avoid a red-shirt year.
First and foremost was linebacker Ben Boulware, a player that Swinney says will help on special teams.
“Boulware has been very impressive,” Swinney said. “The thing about Boulware – do we have to have him at linebacker? Probably not, but he’s been incredibly impressive for a freshman coming in and learning. He doesn’t make a lot of mistakes for one. He changes our team on special teams. He’s not just another guy on special teams. He is a difference-maker from day one. I just think he helps us win.”
Swinney then said that Boulware is the kind of player that every team needs.
“He’s just the ultimate football player,” Swinney said. “There’s just not many guys wired like him. I’m telling you. It doesn’t matter what you do. If it’s a drill, kickoff coverage, scout-look team or you have him at ‘backer, he’s just wide-open. He loves to play. He doesn’t flinch. He acts like he has been around here for three or four years.”
For many of the other freshmen, the decision isn’t quite as clear, and those decisions likely won’t be made until after the season starts.
“We’ve got a good plan in place,” Swinney said. “We’ve got a few guys that we’ll get ready, but not necessarily play them – but see what happens in the first few weeks. Then we’ve got some guys that we have to go ahead and play them. To me it’s got to be obvious. Obviously this guy is really going to help you win – or it’s just out of need.”
Swinney mentioned several players that he thinks will “definitely” be able to contribute this season, and they include defensive end Shaq Lawson, defensive backs Cordrea Tankersley, Korrin Wiggins, Jadar Johnson and Jayron Kearse, tight end Jordan Leggett and wide receivers Mike Williams and T.J. Green.
“Mike Williams is a definite (and) T.J. Green,” Swinney said. “Both of those guys have to play. It’s a good situation there because we don’t need to depend on them, but we feel like we need to get them experience.”
Swinney said the jury was still out on corner MacKensie Alexander, who has been slowed by injury during the August practice sessions.
“Mackensie’s a guy that we definitely think can help us, but he’s still not 100 percent,” Swinney said. “He’s a guy that we just have to keep coming. He’s probably a guy that we can’t make a decision on right now. At some point if he’s still not 100 percent, we’ll just hold him. We definitely think he can help us when healthy.”
Two others that Swinney said the coaches will wait on are freshmen running backs Wayne Gallman and Tyshon Dye.
“We’ll probably bring them along and see if they’re ready,” Swinney said. “Tyshon, hopefully we can get him back soon and see where he is. Those two (running backs), we don’t have a firm decision. We’ll continue to get them ready.”
The Tigers got good news on quarterback Chad Kelly and tight end Sam Cooper Monday morning, with both players cleared to return to practice, albeit in green, non-contact jerseys. Both players suffered torn knee ligaments in the spring game, and both are back earlier than expected.
“Those guys are just incredibly impressive,” Swinney said. “With [head trainer] Danny Poole and our doctors, everybody has done a great job. Their work ethic has been tremendous. It’s amazing to see them bounce around in team reps today. We really pushed them to get them going today.”
Swinney said that Leggett – who suffered a knee injury last week – could dress out for the Georgia game, but likely won’t play until week two against South Carolina State.
Offensive lineman Joe Gore (knee) and running D.J. Howard (ankle) had scopes performed Monday morning.
David Hood can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org