Clemson Football can be described as a process. Every season is a new cycle. The offense must figure out its weapons and its best mix of playcalling. The defense must do the same. As the team moves into the second half of the season, they move into what head coach Dabo Swinney calls the ‘championship phase’.
Coach Swinney described it this past year:
"“You want to be at your best this time of the year. Most teams grow weary. The great ones grow stronger. We want to get hot and play our best ball. We have a lot of lessons we have learned. We have a lot of information. Information without application gets no transformation. We want to play our best ball in the fourth quarter (of the season). We have been a great fourth-quarter team for years around here. Let’s put the season away.”"
Everything builds toward the final part of the campaign, but the house is only as good as the foundation it is built upon. Fans were excited for the 2021 season but it went off the rails quickly. When it was over, there were plenty of observers who reminisced that the preseason preparation hadn’t been up to the standards of the seasons before, especially on the offensive side.
It appears that preparation improved in 2022. The offense played better through the first half of the season, but they faded late. As Swinney said, they grew weary. That applies to coaches as well as players, and Coach Swinney oversaw some big changes this past offseason.
As we approach 2023 with a new offensive coordinator, a new starting quarterback, and an experienced defense, we can see and hear that the team’s mindset has changed.
Starting center Will Putnam, one of the most veteran players on the team, described how he feels mentality off the field will change the approach on the field:
"“As a whole offensive unit, I think we have better chemistry, we have better cohesion, and I think sometimes that chemistry off the field, it can start leading to on the field. And I think coach Riley, him coming to Clemson has brought a lot of excitement and I think that is really contagious. It’s really positive for the program.”"
Putnam’s position coach, Thomas Austin, cited summer preparation as a reason he feels Tristan Leigh is in a great position to reach his full potential as a starting left tackle this season:
"“Really impressed with Tristan Leigh, really impressed with our other guys who are battling. We’ve had a really good summer…I think we’re in a really good place at that position.”"
Leigh appears fired up and ready.
His teammate on the other side of the line believes it.
On the other side of the line, defensive line coach Nick Eason is hyped about three of his non-starters, and his opinion is based on off-season work ethic in the weight room.
"“Payton Page, Tre Williams, and DeMonte Capehart, guys that have been here now for about two years, those guys are what’s going to take us to another level, those three guys right there. So, I’m excited to have the opportunity to coach them as we start camp and look at their development, but I’ve seen it already in the weight room.”"
The guys in the trenches appear to have the right mindset, but the starting quarterback Cade Klubnik says it isn’t limited to the lines.
"“It’s been incredible. I would say the biggest thing I love from [Riley] that just spreads out among our team is confidence. There’s just kind of an energy where it’s like ‘Let’s go kick some butt.’ It doesn’t matter what anybody is going to say or if they even know what the play is. … It’s a confidence that we are not scared and that we are ready to go and attack. That is what I love about him, the confidence he brings.”"
Confidence comes from understanding what you are doing and knowing you’ve put in the work to be ready. As we close this offseason, it appears the Tigers have built an early foundation to be ready when they need to enter the ‘championship phase’ later in the season.