Talking Offense with Dabo

CUTigers.com had a recent opportunity to talk with Clemson wide receivers coach Dabo Swinney about a number of topics, including his take on the current quarterback situation, an update on the receivers, and just how close Clemson is to an ACC Championship.

Coach we've been talking about quarterbacks all week on our morning show so I'd like to start things off by asking your opinion of Cullen Harper. How would you describe what he brings to the table in terms of the upcoming season?
Swinney: Leadership. Tremendous leadership this spring. I thought he showed a lot of poise. We tried to create as much pressure as we could this spring for those guys without killing them. I thought he did a tremendous job managing the offense and being very efficient with what we are trying to do. He has a really good grasp of the system and what Rob wants done. He made great strides and I think his confidence is really high right now and the players believe in him. This is a game of production. It really boils down to production and you are either productive or you are not. He was productive this spring and it showed every practice and every scrimmage situation. He did a great job coming out as the No. 1 guy during the spring.

What about Willy Korn?
Swinney: Willy Korn, who everybody is talking about, I've never been around Willy much because I didn't personally recruit him. But you never know how a kid is going ot respond until you get him there. I tell you what this kid is special. He really is. He is the real deal. To see what he did during 15 spring practices is pretty amazing. He's got a great demeanor to him. Everybody sees the physical tools that he has but the thing that is most exciting to me about Willy is the intangibles. He's got all that stuff the great ones seem to have. That's what is exciting to me about him. Watching him on a daily basis, and watching how he handles himself and interacts with players and responds to good things and responds to bad things. I just think he's destined for greatness at the position if the good lord keeps him healthy. We've still got a lot of work to do but we feel good about our quarterback situation coming out of camp. We've got a tough opener and those guys are all working hard. The candidates are there and competition is there and that usually leads to success.

Talk about what you see teams asking quarterbacks to do these days. Is it fair to say at Clemson that the offensive staff asks the quarterbacks to do a lot?
Swinney: I've been around nine different coordinators so I've seen just about every way to do it. What the quarterbacks have to do is amazing. Especially in our system. They are like coaches on the field. The good thing about our system is that Rob doesn't have sit up there and call the perfect play. Our quarterbacks, we train them to get us into a lot of good plays and get us out of some bad plays. There are a lot of packages at the line of scrimmage. There may be a package of plays with three or four different things based on what the defense is doing or based on the front or based on a tip that we got from film study on a blitz. Maybe it's based on safety structure. There's a lot of different things that go into it as you game-plan for an opponent. Defenses have become sophisticated. You still play the three or four teams every year that feel they are better than you physically no matter who you are. They just line up and go play. But most teams have sophisticated zone blitz packages and pressure packages and they do a lot of different things with their defensive line. Defenses have gone to that because of all the multiple looks offenses have come out with. So to answer your question we do ask a lot of the quarterbacks. There's a lot that goes into it, without question.

"I know I didn't stay here because we were a long way away from winning a championship," said Swinney. "That's for sure. I came here to win a championship. We were a long way from that when I got here. Now I think that we are, without a doubt, right on the threshold."
Do you see teams line up one way defensively knowing you are going to change out of a formation or play and then adjust to your change in an unexpected way?
Swinney: Oh sure. That's football. It's been that way since there was the first audible. It's kind of a cat and mouse game you have to prepare for. Sometimes people may get a tip on one of your codes you use at the line of scrimmage. So you have to disguise some things. But oh yeah, that's a big part of the game of football. You have to make the opponent think one thing and do another. That's why you script plays in the beginning to try and get a feel for how a team is going to play against certain formations or personnel. It's part of the game.

Last year we saw a freshman quarterback in Riley Skinner to lead his team to an ACC Championship. The year before we saw an average quarterback at Florida State lead the Seminoles to an ACC Championship. Is it fair to say that average quarterback play can lead you to an ACC Championship?
Swinney: Well, I think if you look at the Skinner kid at Wake Forest, I would be hard-pressed to say he had average quarterback play. I think he was outstanding in making plays for them in critical situations. When you think about winning a championship it's more than a quarterback. It's an offensive line. It's a team. You got to put it all together. I tell our guys all the time, 'It's not the 11 best, it's the best 11 you put out there.' I've been on national championship teams and I've been on conference championships teams. All those teams, we had very good players in certain spots, we had good players and we had average players. But we were able to win championships because we are a team. When you are a team it's amazing what you can accomplish and Wake Forest is a good example of that. They were sound in the kicking game. Solid on defense and solid on offense. If you do those things you've got a chance.

How close is this team to winning an ACC Championship?
Swinney: Well, I know I didn't stay here because we were a long way away from winning a championship. That's for sure. I came here to win a championship. We were a long way from that when I got here. Now I think that we are, without a doubt, right on the threshold. Again, you have to put things together. There is chemistry involved. It's teammates pulling together and coaches. Having a little luck here and there. Not missing that extra point or getting it blocked. Or getting that ball in from the one yard line at Boston College. It's making one more tackle in kickoff coverage or making one more catch. There are so many things that go into it but that's the truth. I know people don't want to hear that from coach Bowden, but that's the truth. We are literally ... and we go through the film every day ... when you go through the entire season cutup you realize you are one play. We really are. This game is always five or six plays every single week that make a difference in winning or losing the game. We just have to make that one more play each week to try and get to that championship game. But this program, without a doubt, is extremely close to the championship level. We have a tremendous coaching staff here. We have talent. We've recruited very well the last few years. We definitely can get it done. We are going to get it done. I'm looking forward to the day when all the Clemson fans can rejoice in another conference championship. ... I think we are there. I really do. Last year we started out 7-1 but you got to finish and play this thing through. We do that and I think we'll all be happy with the end result.

Talk about the wide receivers and what you expect of some of your guys coming back this season.
Swinney: I'm excited about the receiving corps mainly because I've been coaching a lot of freshmen and sophomores the last couple of years. This year, all of those guys, hopefully I'll get some fruits of that labor because they all played a lot as true freshmen. Rendrick, Aaron and Tyler- they all played as freshmen and sophomores last year. They've got a tremendous amount of experience and have played in some big games and made big plays in big games. Then you throw Jacoby in there with him now past his freshman year after having success and making big plays. Those are our four guys that have to get it done for us out of the gate. They are all experienced. They are all talented and they can all run. The experience factor, the knowledge factor, that is a critical component of what we do. So I'm really excited to have that group back because they all know what they are doing. We have intelligent conversations and it's fun to see where they are right now from a growth standpoint at the position and to know that I don't lose anybody. All of those guys are back a couple more years. Watching them this spring develop into a close group as well. There are big shoes to fill with Chansi because he was an all-conference guy a few years in a row and led this league in receiving. I think Jacoby will do a tremendous job in Chansi's place. He'll play that little slot position. Tyler Grisham- probably our most complete guy. They are all running well. Joey Batson timed them the other day I think Rendrick ran 4.52 at 240 pounds. If he'll just stay healthy, he will fill his potential. It's just one of those things that is going to happen. Aaron Kelly- his game is at a whole different level. He's a guy we have to get the ball to. He's going to make a bunch of plays and was our best guy on the field this spring. He's pushing 200 pounds and is strong, so we are excited about him. Then you've got Donte Harris- he's our one senior and a role guy. Very dependable. Then the young guys coming in- Ogren and Xavier Dye. Both of them will play. They will just get better and better as the season goes.

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