"So much [more] improved," Swinney said, when asked about Watkins' progress this spring.
"Oh, my goodness, Dan [Brooks] has done a great job with him. His pad leverage, he was kind of just a pop up and look around guy when he got here. He would just pop up. You can't do that.
"He has really, really improved, throughout the season, throughout bowl practice and until now. He looks like the player that we know he can be."
Watkins is working alongside the same guys he was with a season ago -- Josh Watson, Deshawn Williams, Grady Jarrett and D.J. Reader.
"It's a good situation," Swinney said. "D.J. Reader has been awesome. He is really a special player. He looks great. His weight is down. He's in that 320-range. Just really excited about that whole group and how they work, the leadership they've added."
Roll before you walkIt's no secret that the Clemson coaching staff wants Isaiah Battle to take ownership of the starting left tackle position. Consistency has been one thing that's held him back this spring.
When it comes to developing, Swinney knows that it takes time for some players. Talent alone isn't good enough to get the job done.
"It's about guys that are going to be dependable, be accountable, be responsible. Those are the abilities that matter, not just ability," Swinney said. "He's still got a ways to go in that area, but a young player. That's our job as coaches, to get him there.
"At some point, they've got to get out of wheelchair and they've got to get on their own two feet. Sometimes, they come in here and we have to push them around a little bit in the wheelchair. Then, we put them on crutches.
"That's OK, too. But, sooner or later, they've got to be on their own two feet."
Jack of all tradesBrandon Thomas started every game at left tackle last season and was named first-team All-ACC. Still, the Clemson coaches hope Battle takes over that spot.
With the possibility of Battle taking over as the primary protector of Tajh Boyd's blindside, Thomas has moved around to several different positions along the offensive line.
"We've mixed it up. He's worked right tackle, left tackle. He's worked guard. He's worked a little bit of all of them this spring," Swinney said. "I'll tell you, he's had a good spring. I'm really pleased with Brandon Thomas."
Considering that Thomas was once a longtime occupant in Dabo's Dog House, those have to be encouraging words.
"He's another one of those guys, kind of like Battle. In fact, I would say Battle is much further along than Brandon Thomas was after his true freshman year. It's not even close," Swinney said.