Leading up to the 2014 season, Clemson Football's assistant coaches sat down with media to discuss the season outlook at their position groups and the progression of individual players.
Offensive coordinator Chad Morris
On his expectations after losing key players:
"Tajh Boyd, Sammy Watkins, Martavis Bryant, Andre Ellington, Nuk Hopkins, all those guys left their legacy here and they did a great job of it. But now it's a fresh start. Everybody is looking at it like 'are they going to get a first down?' but I look at it the opposite. It's a fresh start now. I'm excited about this new group and what they can do. What legacy is Cole Stoudt going to leave here with? That's the bottom line. He's played under Tajh, he knows the system, it's not like he has to learn something new. I'm fired up every year, but I'm really excited this year. People aren't giving us a lot of credit, but I love being the underdog, it gives us a little extra motivation."
On Cole Stoudt and Deshaun Watson's playing time:
"Cole is our starter and we're excited about him. We feel like he gives us the best opportunity to win right now, but we got a really good guy behind him. Here's what I'll say. The cream rises to the top. Everything has a way of working itself out. Deshaun is going to play, but it's Cole's job. It's easy to come in with a big lead, but what are you going to do when the score is 0-0? That's where you win games and we know Cole can do that. Cole is one of the most efficient passers in the nation. We're not going to ask Cole to go out and win games on his own. What we do expect is that he will operate under the system and do his job."
On playing smashmouth football:
"I think we can play that. From a running back standpoint, we're really deep and have some powerful guys. I want to run the football more, but we also are going to get the ball to our hot hand. We are going to give the ball to the talent we have. If you would have told me at this time last year that 'Hot Rod' McDowell was going to be a 1,000-yard rusher, I would've told you that you were crazy, but he got hot and we ran with him."
Where will you run the ball?
"It's hard to say. We have some moving parts that have to materialize. Our line had a good spring, but we have to go out and get it in the fall. I think continuity is the big thing and then adapting to what we have. We have great running backs and we're deep so we can rotate guys in. But I know the competition has made a lot of guys healthier than what they thought they were."
Who will be the third-down rusher?
"We're still going to run our quarterback. We anticipate Dye and Gallman playing a bit with Zac Brooks in the mix too. We want to run the ball with our running backs, but we're not going to change who we are. We'll just adjust to the strengths we have."
Defensive coordinator Brent Venables
On defensive personnel:
"Garry Peters is suspended for our first game, but we have Martin Jenkins who has played a lot. When he's healthy he's fearless, skilled and can do a lot of different things. Throw in Mackenzie Alexander and Tankersley we have good players, but you don't win games on combine times, you have to go out there and execute and be physical. But I'm excited. We have a great battle at strong safety that will go deep into fall camp, and then at the other safety Robert Smith has been one of our best guys and had an excellent spring. TJ Green, too, has been breathing down some people's necks. He has great speed and size, he's a great football player and we will find a way to get him on the field. Another guy is Tony Steward. He had an excellent spring and great summer so he should be able to produce at a high level this season. Overall I like the collection of guys that we have. A year ago there weren't a lot of household names and now more people know who they are, but they still have a lot to prove. We know we have a talented group of guys who have a chance to be pretty good, if not great."
Wide receivers coach Jeff Scott:
On losing Sammy Watkins:
"We knew that day was coming and I think in the recruiting process you recruit knowing that he was only going to be here for three years. The fortunate thing about recruiting great players that go on to the next level is that you can recruit other talented players to replace them and I think that's what we've done. The good news is that these three freshmen that we signed are all really good players, the bad news is they're all true freshmen. But they see it as a challenge to replace Sammy and they're excited to take it on. I think we have enough talent in that room to do what we need to do in order to win games."
On coaching Sammy:
"You never know if you'll get another chance to coach a player of his caliber again, but I enjoyed going to New York for the Draft and it will be exciting watch him the next few years in the NFL."
On the freshmen:
"Both Charone and Hopper weren't there in the spring so the good thing about that was it gave the three freshmen some valuable reps. But I expect all of them and even Trevion Thompson to play this year."
On Adam Humphries:
"He's like a coach on the field, he knows all three positions. He really knows the offense. In the past he didn't get to catch a whole lot of balls and he blocked a lot downfield, but now with Sammy gone he will get a chance to catch some of those screens and get more catches. It's definitely something that he's earned based off of his work ethic."
On Mike Williams:
"I think Mike was in a really good position last year where he was able to play and get some experience, not just mop up reps but really when the game was on the line he made some big plays for us. He's got a lot of ability and catches the ball naturally. He's gained close to 15-18 pounds since he's got here and he has a bright future at Clemson. The jump ball comes naturally. Like DeAndre (Hopkins) he played basketball so he knows how to get up and catch the ball at its highest point."
Running backs coach Tony Elliott:
On who will get the most playing time:
"It's going to be a lot like last year initially with 'back-by-committee.' You look at last year where we had three guys competing and McDowell separated himself from the rest of the pack. This year will look a lot similar. There are four guys who could be 'the guy.' I think DJ (Howard) went into the spring as the elder statesman and I think he did everything he needed to hold off the guys behind him, but guys made a legitimate push so we're going to continue this battle into camp. My mentality is I don't care who the starter is, but I have a set of expectations for that guy. I tell them all the time, 'I don't care if you can drive stick or not, just don't crash.' They all have different abilities in what they're good at. Obviously DJ is going to have experience and he has the ability to wow the crowd and be that guy, but he has some things he needs to work on. Same thing with Zac (Brooks). I think Zac has a chance to be a complete guy who can play in all situations and C.J. (Davidson) is a guy that we are very fortunate to have and he's starting to come into his own. I think Wayne Gallman is going to be very special, it's just a matter of getting him where his knowledge needs to be and he's able to execute with confidence."
What have you seen in C.J. Davidson?
"From the time that he came out we knew he was an explosive athlete, it was just a matter of getting him to a point where he knew what was going on. Not just with his specific assignment, but how he impacted others and knowing all of the nonverbal communication that goes on. So it's just a lot of things he hasn't seen, but all along we knew he was an explosive athlete."
On Coach Swinney:
"I always had aspirations of being a head coach, but now that I've been here and see what he does on a daily basis, there are a lot of things that he has to do and a lot of things outside of football because he's managing a company so he has to be involved in everything. We're lucky in that we really only have to focus on football and our guys while he takes a lot of the external pressure off. I think it's unfair because you don't get to see the job he actually does coaching."
In your pursuit of being a head coach, what has Dabo taught you?
"He's a great manager of people and he doesn't micro-manage. He lets us do our job but he holds us to a standard. Also, he has a great vision. I don't think a lot of people know that about him and he has a plan to accomplish that vision."
On the new faces and excitement on the offense as a whole:
"No question. It was like when I first came in. I was very fortunate to come in with Coach Morris and Coach Caldwell and it was all new faces then. It's kind of the same thing now where there are a couple of unknowns. It just brings some new excitement and some new freshness and helps to eliminate complacency, which is something we're always battling. We have great players, it's just a matter of getting them out there and executing."
On his different backs:
"I love to have a stable of backs because I think the game of football has changed. Take the NFL for example, not drafting running backs as high, but rather stockpiling them because of the demands they face. They take such a punishment and their bodies only have so many hits so it's a good thing to have a stable. When you have just one guy, you're dependent on him and there are some things you can't control. But for us, it doesn't matter who is out there, they know that they have to play to our standard, which is best."
Update on Tyshon Dye:
"We would like to say October, sometime around midseason, but it's all going to go on how he heals, progresses and feels from a mental standpoint."
Defensive backs coach Mike Reed
On Mackensie Alexander:
"Mackensie is Mackensie. A young man who had a setback with an injury, but loves the game. It was frustrating for him sitting on the sidelines watching everyone else participate, but it was a learning experience for him. The game of football isn't promised to you so you have to treat it with respect. With any injury, the biggest hurdle that you have to overcome is mental. But he's done a good job doing that and working hard."
On Jayron Kearse:
"For me it's consistency. I want to know exactly what I'm getting on every play. I need guys who I can trust. He was thrust into playing a lot earlier than I expected. He had the athletic ability to play, but he wasn't used to playing at that competition."
Defensive tackles coach Dan Brooks:
On roster depth:
"Everywhere I've worked, you have to have depth just for the quality of competition. But one important thing Coach Hobby and I have noticed is guys have to feel good about the guy coming in for them, or they don't want to come out of the game and they overextend themselves. It's the same with that guy coming in. He has to feel confident that he can come in and hold that spot, so that's where we've worked to get to. If we can get through camp healthy, we'd like to be able to play at least 10 defensive lineman in every game. Then, you have your best players fresh in the 4th quarter to help you win the game.
On defense being the strength of the team:
"All I know is that a couple years ago we were the weak link of the football team, but they've grown into it (being the strength) and I think they've accepted that role that they need to carry some weight. We did lose some guys, but not up front. Everybody that played up front we've got coming back. You look at a guy like Stephone as the leader of that linebacker group and then Robert Smith it's hard to believe that he and Grady Jarrett are seniors. It seems like it hasn't been that long. But we have some quality experience but we also have some young guys that are very talented, but lack game experience. So are we the strength? You'd have to ask the head coach about that, but I don't think we're the weak link anymore."
On the returning D-Linemen:
"They know our system. Coach Venables has been here now a couple years and our kids know what we want and what we expect. So every one of these guys knows the system. Not only the drills, but the schemes and what we're trying to do. It brings a lot when you have those guys that can mentor the younger guys. But after talking with Coach Hobby, I think our biggest thing is getting Vic Beasley better. Just because you're an All-American doesn't mean you're status quo. You never stay the same. So that's where we're at right now. But it does help having these guys around because they can show the young guys, 'this is the way it's supposed to be done at Clemson.'"
Would you like to see somebody step up and take that spot next to Grady Jarrett instead of rotating guys?
"You would, but I like what we have going where they're all competing. I think we started four or five different combinations last season with Grady being a constant. Grady has earned that, but he also has to keep that. You look at a guy like Carlos Watkins and he started against Georgia as a sophomore last year and has had a great offseason. Now I think he's getting back close to 100 percent. It was a very unfortunate deal, but he played really well on Thursday night up in Raleigh before all that happened. But it's been very much a work in progress to get him back so he'll be in the mix. As we finished spring, though, D.J. (Reader) really came on, DeShawn (Williams) was consistent all the way. So ultimately I like the competition that we have and guys know they have to step up if they want to play. Also look for guys like Scott Pagano and Rod Byers was the best he's ever been in the spring. It's nice to have this depth that we've recruited."
Offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell
On preparation for the season:
"We've been trying to create a competitive environment. We would like to play more people, especially on these hot days, but it's hard to move people in and out on the offensive line, but if you're not dedicated, disciplined and studying the game, you're going to have a tough time. You have to earn the right to play and if you do, you will."
On Jay Guillermo:
"Jay is doing great. I think a lot of people expected too much out of him too soon, but Jay is a tremendous player. There has been a learning curve for him, learning how to play with his hands, but he is big and athletic and he's really progressed. He can play guard or center, he's learned the system pretty well and he's dedicated to the cause both in the weight room and film study."
On Tyrone Crowder:
"He's really taking off in the weight room, setting personal records every day. As a matter of fact they commented this morning on how much him and Maverick Morris have progressed. He has to potential to be a starter. He's committed and he'll give you all he's got."
Will there be shuffling along the line this fall camp?
"Yeah, we're looking for continuity. We have a couple of suspensions, but that's just for one game. So you have to practice everybody, but at some point get the first five for the first game. It sets us behind the 8-ball a little bit, but it's an opportunity for someone to step up and show what they can do. I love this group, they're a bunch of athletic competitors and I'm anxious to see how much they've progressed. Our strength staff does an unbelievable job, doing what we ask them to do and nobody is better than this staff, that's for certain."
On sack and TFL numbers:
"We actually did some studying and found out that the offensive line only gave up 15 sacks last year in 13 games. That's not too bad. It's the same with TFLs. Sometimes we run plays off the edge and people are coming. In the past we could just chuck the ball to Sammy and score. It might be a little different this year, who knows. But Chad (Morris) is unbelievable in how he studies that and we take great pride in how we play."