Hope springs eternal for Swinney

Nearly two months since the embarrassing 70-33 Orange Bowl loss to West Virginia, Dabo Swinney will open spring practice with that fateful January night in the back of his mind.

And that's where it will stay when the push towards 2012 starts on Wednesday.

"We stunk it up the last-time we played, bottom line," Swinney said on Tuesday, a day before Clemson opens spring practice.

"That's a definite motivating factor as you go into your offseason and spring ball. At the same time, you've got to focus on 2012. We've got a new team. It's a whole new team."

Year No. 4 of the Swinney era will consist of major renovations to both the offensive and defensive lines.

Two starting tackles and a starting end are gone from the defensive front.

Two starting tackles, a starting guard and the top two reserves are gone from the offensive front.

"We've got some major growing up to do on the offensive line and defensive line," Swinney said. "That's a big question-mark. Not necessarily a question-mark, just a major point of emphasis that we have on this football team.

Dalton Freeman has started at center in every game for each of the last two seasons. (Roy Philpott)
"We've got talented guys there. We just don't have a lot of guys that have played a lot of football. It's a great opportunity."

Dalton Freeman returns to his starting spot at center. The only other returning offensive lineman with significant experience on that side of the ball is Brandon Thomas.

"We're very fortunate to have [Freeman] back," Swinney said. "Brandon Thomas has been kind of a MVP for us in this offseason program. I am just incredibly pleased with what I've seen out of Brandon Thomas. It's almost like the light's just come on for him."

Thomas, who worked primarily at left guard in 2011, could stay there or work at tackle.

"He gives us some flexibility. Because, ultimately, we've just got to find the best five guys," Swinney said.

Tyler Shatley would have been the most experienced interior defensive lineman if he wasn't moved to right guard over the winter. The redshirt junior turned heads during offseason conditioning drills.

"I think it's a great move for him. He looks totally different over there on that side of the ball, watching him go through drills, just from an athletic standpoint," Swinney said. "He goes from being an OK athlete to a really, really good athlete. He's strong, powerful and smart."

Who are the best tackles?

That is the question.

Swinney listed the candidates: Gifford Timothy, Shaq Anthony, Joe Gore and Isaiah Battle.

"We've got a lot of bodies to work with, which is a good thing," Swinney said.

The ACC Player of the Year
Operating behind that offensive line is the ACC's reining Player of the Year, Tajh Boyd.

Though Boyd is coming off one of the top seasons by a quarterback in Clemson history, Swinney would like to see him make strides in 2012.

"He's got to become a better game manager. Bottom line is he's got to improve his ball security and game management," Swinney said. "He did a lot of good things, but he led our team in turnovers. He gave up a bunch of sacks just on his own."

He has little doubt that Boyd will take the necessary steps to make it happen.

"He's got a work-ethic and intensity, a will to improve and be coachable that not everybody has. That's why he's going to be a great player," Swinney said.

Mike Bellamy
Suspended indefinitely from the team before the ACC Championship, Bellamy continues to work his way back into the good graces of the Clemson coaches. The sophomore running back has been a full-participant in offseason conditioning drills.

"So far, he's doing what we've asked him to do," Swinney said. "He's not perfect. I don't think any of us are perfect, but he's trying to really improve himself on and off the field."

Said Swinney: "So far, so good."

Of the early enrolled freshmen at Clemson, Travis Blanks was rated the highest.
Travis Blanks
A four-star safety by Scout.com in the class of 2012, Blanks has already made a name for himself during his first two months on campus.

"He's one of those guys that's over here on a Saturday back-peddling on our practice field," Swinney said. "He's just focused and committed to being a great player. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see him get in the mix."

Blanks could play cornerback, safety or nickel back.

"He is way wise and way mature beyond his years. A young guy coming in, he's over here all the time watching tape," Swinney said.

Special teams
"I want to see what he's going to be able to do. I think he's got a great future for us. Obviously, Catanzaro is coming off an all-conference year," Swinney said. "Our punter situation is probably the biggest question going into the spring."

Spencer Benton will enter with the starting punter job, but he'll have to hold off early enrolled freshman Bradley Pinion.

No-go this spring
Safety Rashard Hall and linebacker Tony Steward will be out this spring because of knee injuries. Hall played through his injury last season before undergoing offseason surgery. Steward continues to recover from ACL surgery and could be ready to re-join the team as early as May.

Last week, the NCAA denied Steward's application for a medical redshirt.

"Technically, he played in more games that was allowed, but he didn't play many snaps. That's the rule and that's the way it is," Swinney said.

Linebacker Colton Walls is done with football at Clemson.

"He's decided that he does not want to play anymore," Swinney said.

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