Swinney on National Championship: "We're chasing another one"


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Swinney talks to the media Wednesday
Swinney talks to the media Wednesday

CLEMSON – Dabo Swinney doesn’t see the Clemson football program as the defending national champions. Why? Because he wants to concentrate on winning another one.

Swinney and the Tigers won the school’s second national championship in January, defeating Alabama 35-31 in Tampa in the title game. However, Swinney is ready to put the 2016 National Championship in the rear-view mirror and concentrate on winning a third title.

“It's kind of hard to repeat when you don't have the same team. This is a different team and it's a different challenge. I guess Clemson could go repeat,” he said. “Our goal is to go be the best we can be. That's never going to change. Every team is different. The season is always different. There are different challenges throughout the season. I want us to be a team that is focused, has great leadership from within and is committed to being the best they can be day in and day out and lives up to the standard - the best version of them. That's the goal of this team and that's our challenge as coaches. We're not defending a national championship and we don't talk about that. We're chasing another one. We're attacking and trying to go just like every other team out there. Last year is over.”

Clemson begins spring practice Wednesday, and Swinney says the Tigers are ready to get back to work.

“For us, we're really excited about getting back on the field. It's been a blur the last couple of months or the last six weeks as we were finishing recruiting and all that goes on with this time of year and traveling and doing a lot of different engagements and functions,” Swinney said. “We're getting back to the details of who we are as a program. Our staff has done a tremendous job of studying our quality control. We really finished all of that up on Monday as a staff. We've got a very detailed and thorough process that we believe in and that we go through each year in evaluating everything we do and kind of setting the charge for the next season - personnel and so forth.”

Once again, Clemson will be a young football team.

“The good thing is most of our team is here this spring. We didn't have a lot of seniors off of last year's team. They were impactful guys, that's for sure, but we didn't have an enormous amount of guys graduate,” Swinney said. “Most of our team is here. We only have 10 scholarship guys that will be coming in this summer. We had four midyears that are already here. A lot of guys that know what it takes that will be going through spring ball and that's something we're all excited about. The seven scholarship seniors on this team are all we've got. We're a big junior, sophomore team. We have a big junior class and a big sophomore class and only seven scholarship seniors.

“That's a positive in that you've got a lot of guys who have played a lot of ball in that junior class and that sophomore class that are still here. The natural thing to do when you finish a season is to focus on who's gone and who's left. But, our focus is on who's here. The good news is we've got a lot of quality people and talented young men that are on this roster, but we've got a lot of experienced people coming back. We've got most everybody back in the trenches on both sides, and that's kind of where it always starts.”

The Tigers lose several players that were crucial to last year’s title run, and Swinney says it will be exciting to work with a “new” team.

“We've got a lot of work to do because it is a new team. You have experience coming back, but it's a new team and there are new challenges, new chemistry, new leadership, new roles that have to work out and emerge,” he said. “You have to sort through all of that stuff. That's the fun part of it and for us, it's back to the basics. As we've evaluated ourselves in making sure we're putting time into the right things, but it's not just what we do, it's how we do those things. It's making sure we're doing a great job of teaching the techniques and fundamentals of how we do what we do. That will be a big focus for us. Obviously, we've got some critical areas that we've got to figure out. We'll install our systems on both sides, a lot of work on special teams. We've got to try to create the depth.”

Positions to watch

“Offensively, it's quarterback and center. That's what we've got to figure out. We lost two great players at those positions. We like the people that are on our roster. It's going to be a great competition, and I look forward to seeing those guys compete. Kelly Bryant is definitely the starter going into spring ball, but as I tell these guys there aren't lifetime contracts. You've got to be the best guy all the time. It's going to be a fun thing to watch as we go through the process. I'm excited to see Kelly get the opportunity to run out there and see if he is ready to take that next step and lead this group, but we'll give everybody an opportunity to compete and the best guy is the guy who will run out there first. Maybe it gets resolved in the spring and maybe it doesn't.

“Our center position, we'll start off with Justin Falcinelli there. I'm excited about him. I think he's ready, but he's got to go do it. We've got good depth there.

“The punter competition is going to be critical. I think we've got three good candidates that will be battling for that job. I'm excited to see how that plays out. Austin Spence is our snapper. He's got some experience. We'll try to shore up our return game. Hopefully, Ray-Ray McCloud through his success and failure in the return game last year will be ready to take another step from a maturity standpoint because he's really gifted with the ball in his hands.”

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