Fresh faces, new voices: Spring to provide a fresh perspective in Clemson


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Dorian O'Daniel will be one player we hear more from this spring
Dorian O'Daniel will be one player we hear more from this spring

CLEMSON – There are times when a fresh perspective is needed. It gives us a brand new and clear look at the world that surrounds us, opening our minds to a new way of thinking.

The Clemson football team begins spring practice next week, and for the first time in a while, there will be new voices and faces that will make up the bulk of not only media interview sessions, but on the practice fields and meeting rooms.

On the defensive side of the ball, gone are longtime defensive line coaches Dan Brooks and Marion Hobby. They were a staple around the football program for almost a decade, and one person (for now) replaces that dynamic duo – new defensive line coach Todd Bates.

Bates will coach the entire line while head coach Dabo Swinney waits on NCAA legislation that will allow for the addition of a 10th full-time coach. The other spot is new secondary coach Mickey Conn, a college teammate of Swinney’s at Alabama, who built the program at Loganville (GA) Grayson before accepting Swinney’s offer to become a defensive analyst last spring. Conn will join secondary coach Mike Reed and coach the safeties while Reed will coach the corners.

Of course, both Swinney and Conn had to know that Clemson’s staff would see changes sooner rather than later, and it happened in a span of ten months. Conn now gets to get back to what he does best – teaching players on the field, something he wasn’t allowed to do as an analyst.

The defensive line and secondary meeting rooms will be different for everyone involved. Brooks, Hobby, and Reed are all seen as some of the nation’s best at what they do, so a change wasn’t necessary or even needed. But offering up a fresh start to a group of talented players can sometimes do wonders – the veteran who seeks more playing time now has a clean slate with a new coach.

From a media perspective – and the fans that get to read and see the interviews – a lot will be new.

For the past few seasons, we’ve known that post-practice interview sessions and the usual Monday and Tuesday press conferences would be filled with Deshaun Watson, Wayne Gallman, Mike Williams, Carlos Watkins, Ben Boulware and Jay Guillermo. Those players were the voices for their position groups, and after a few seasons they ran out of things to say (well, not Ben) and it became harder to find fresh content when it wasn’t game day.

Watson, Gallman, and Williams were all very reserved and measured in their answers, and there was a sameness to it all that caused the players to tighten up even more. Interviews with Guillermo, Jadar Johnson, Christian Wilkins and Boulware were moments to be treasured.

This spring, we’ll have new voices across the board. Wilkins will be the lead guy on the defense, but Kendall Joseph and Dorian O’Daniel (both great interviews) will see more exposure. Defensive back Ryan Carter is a great interview, and we get to see what some of these newcomers bring to the table.

My one regret is that two guys who will be a major part of the quarterback competition – Zerrick Cooper and Hunter Johnson – won’t be allowed to speak with the media during spring or fall camp. Under Swinney’s rules, they won’t be allowed to do interviews until after they’ve played in a game, so we’ll rely on Kelly Bryant and Tucker Israel during the spring to get a gauge on how the players see that competition.

But the spring is about newness, and there will be plenty of new across the board. Bring on the spring.



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