Tigers hold final bowl practice under watchful eye of Archie Manning


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Kelly Bryant having fun at Saturday's practice
Kelly Bryant having fun at Saturday's practice

NEW ORLEANS, LA – The final bowl practice for the top-ranked Clemson football team featured special guest Archie Manning, the Manning family patriarch who once played for the New Orleans Saints.

The Tigers practiced at Tulane’s Yulman Stadium as they prepare to face No. 4 Alabama in the Allstate Sugar Bowl College Football Playoff semifinal Monday night in the Superdome.

Manning played for the Saints from 1971-82, and he’s the father of Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Eli Manning. The Manning family has become friends with Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney over the past few seasons on the awards circuit, and they were invited to Saturday’s practice.

Manning was accompanied by Cooper Manning, his oldest son, and spent much of the early part of practice talking to ABC college football analyst Todd Blackledge, who will call Monday’s game. Former Clemson running back C.J. Spiller has made the trip to New Orleans for the game and he walked into the stadium shortly after practice began.

Media day was held in the Superdome Saturday morning, the team ate a quick lunch and bused over to Tulane for the final practice. Saturday’s practice was a typical Thursday practice during the regular season – special teams work and a final walk-through.

The Tigers practiced getting the field goal team out on the field as fast as possible – simulating end-of-game or half without timeouts, and one thing stood out to me. Sophomore defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence sprinted from the sideline to the middle of the field, and he looks the best he’s looked since last season.

We know that Lawrence had off-season surgery on his foot, and there have been times this season when he’s limped noticeably. He took a few weeks off at the end of the season, played in the ACC Championship Game against Miami and now has had another three weeks to heal. He looks fantastic. And yes, it’s odd seeing a big man move that fast, but he was moving.

We are obviously allowed to see only a small fraction of practice, but Hunter Johnson was working with the second-team unit during the earl portion.

I also watched Kelly Bryant – just to make sure he’s still loose and confident – and he was. Just before the end of calisthenics, the team does tigerjacks, the Clemson version of jumping jacks. Bryant’s version was extremely exaggerated, and he was all smiles again today.

And, after speaking to many of the players earlier today, I know they are happy that practice is over and they can relax a bit before the game Monday night. And, despite what we were told by the Alabama players, they were out in force in the French Quarter and Bourbon Street last night. One Clemson player mentioned that a Bama player started “barking” at him, but he merely walked away.

Should be more of both out tonight. Fun times in the Big Easy.

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