All about the fans

CLEMSON - During his press conference before Fan Appreciation Day on Sunday, Clemson Coach Dabo Swinney said he stressed to the team what the day was about.

Acknowledging the passionate fans who bring their families to meet the players, Swinney wanted everyone on the team to be cognoscente of what it means for the fans.

It's also a chance for the players to present themselves to the fans.

"That's one of the things we talk about as a team," Swinney said. "Let's embrace these fans. You look them in the eye and you thank them. You say hello and sign those autographs. Be gracious with their time." Clemson football is not all about the players, Swinney said.

"Yes, they're the heartbeat, no doubt they're the heartbeat of Clemson football," he said. "It's a whole body…there's a lot that goes into making Clemson football unique."

Swinney also remembers when he was growing up, rooting for Alabama.

"I was the best fan that you could be. You weren't beating my team. Nobody was," he said. "I would fight you in the lunch room in a heartbeat if you talked about Alabama. We were going to win every game."

Even as a walk-on at Alabama, Swinney said he was still a fan. Looking around the huddle in disbelief, seeing the guys he'd been pulling for all throughout high school.

It was a long way from when he was walking around with a big, foam No. 1 finger, pom poms, with his hat and shirt on.

"I think it's neat to have a team that you really, really love and want to see do well," he said.

THE WEEK AFTER: Although Swinney would like to have a quarterback who has a lot of experience, he'd rather have a line with experience over an inexperienced quarterback, if he had to chose one way or another.

"I'd choose a rookie quarterback over a veteran starting offensive line," Swinney said. He said things haven't been much different from either Kyle Parker or Willy Korn since Parker was named starter last week. Both continue to practice and work as hard as they were when the position was still up for grabs.

"The difference with Kyle is that he's starting to get the opportunity to assert himself as a leader and get that continuity with that first group," Swinney said.

Adding that he's pleased with how both quarterbacks are handling the situation, Swinney said both are continually showing improvement. He realizes the risk that comes with trotting out a young quarterback.

"All you can do is go with the best guy, based on what happens on the practice field," Swinney said. Though Parker is a freshman, Swinney said his experience from the baseball diamond should help ease some of the pressure.

"I think he'll be a cool customer," Swinney said.

There could be some advantage, he said, when starting a quarterback with little experience.

"They don't have a good feel for his demeanor, tendencies, haven't really studied him on film…when you get film, you start studying him, you learn things about that player," Swinney said. "Those are things you start structuring your defense around."

GEARED AND READY: Heading into the 2009 season as the head coach, Swinney said he's got all of his bullets in his holster to start the season, unlike last year when he was promoted for the interim.

"I've had an opportunity to really truly prepare and organize and to coach details," he said.

Swinney likes that he's able to do the things a head coach is supposed to do, instead of going "on the fly."

"Sometimes that's what you've got to do…it comes at you and that's what you have to do," he said. "It's been nice to really, truly prepare for a moment. That's what we've been able to do."

Being able to put together a team, coaching and support staff, Swinney said everyone is on the same page.

DEPTH AT RB: On the page Swinney spoke of, McDowell said he's accepted his role as a red-shirt. Swinney said Clemson fortunate to be able to red-shirt freshman running back Rod McDowell.

"Having Rendrick Taylor allows us to do that," Swinney said. "He's playing a couple of different positions and gives us another presence in the backfield. I'm real excited about the running backs and the depth that we have there."

Having played several positions during his career at Clemson, Taylor is impressing Swinney with his ability to pick up three positions, especially after red-shirting last year.

Taylor has really bought into his role.

"He's really had to learn the game from the inside out. There's a lot he really hasn't done from a tight end, fullback and even at running back," Swinney said.

It's not about improving Taylor's statistics, it's about improving his skill sets, Swinney said.

MORE VERSATILITY: Marcus Gilchrist's role this year will be a versatile one too this year. Whether it's from cornerback, free safety or on special teams, Swinney looks for him to be a solid contributor.

"He's just a football player…he's a really good player who can play (a lot) of positions and do it well," Swinney said.

"We feel like he's one of our best guys."

ANOTHER OF THE BEST GUYS: Stanley Hunter has made the best of a bad situation.

"I was probably more down than him when we met," Swinney said.

Seeing someone like Hunter, who realizes one door's closing has lead to another one opening, is encouraging. That's the kind of thing that Swinney said is refreshing. Swinney is thankful Hunter is sticking around to coach.

The decision, Swinney said, is giving Hunter a leg up on the field.

"(He's) a special young man," Swinney said. "He hasn't been here that long and his teammates want to embrace, wear his jersey. I think that's pretty neat."

O-LINE IMPROVEMENT: Swinney believes the offensive line is buying into what they're being sold. It doesn't help when they're not given a day off.

"It's constant, an everyday sense of urgency with those guys up front," Swinney said. "I'm really proud of Chris Hairston, Thomas Austin and Mason Cloy. Those guys have really settled in nicely. Antoine McClain from a physical stand point, I'm really pleased with him. From time to time, you have to make sure he doesn't miss an assignment on his technique."

Though Corey Lambert has been named the starter, right tackle remains the biggest concern.

HALLOWEEN COLORS ON HALLOWEEN: Coastal Carolina Coach Dave Bennett asked Swinney if the Chanticleers could wear all black on Oct. 31. Swinney said it was fine because Clemson is wearing all orange.

"I told him it will be a Halloween trick or treat. I just told him, to make sure you leave the tricks at home," he said.

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