Clemson football: Tigers open summer camp in defense of national crown
CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson coach Dabo Swinney put it as plainly as he could to his guys — this Tiger team hasn't won anything. At least not yet.
Swinney and the Tigers took to the practice field to start summer workouts almost seven months after winning the national title. Swinney acknowledged he's got plenty of players who were down in Tampa, Florida, celebrating Clemson's 35-31 win over Alabama. None of that will matter when the Tigers line up against opponents this fall.
"We're right back at the bottom with everybody else," Swinney said Thursday. "You get what you earn. When it's all said and done, if we have the right focus and work ethic, we'll be pleased with where we are."
That was certainly the case last year as the Tigers won their second straight Atlantic Coast Conference title and advanced to the College Football Playoff for a second consecutive season. In a rematch with the 2015 champion Crimson Tide, the Tigers held tough with a dramatic, last-second TD for their second national title and first since 1981.
Swinney has said since February when spring drills began that the historic moment was behind him and his players. It's also left several gaping holes for a title-winning offense that saw four of its stars taken in the NFL draft, led by first-round selections in receiver Mike Williams and quarterback Deshaun Watson.
The two were essential to Clemson's success and their loss leaves questions heading into the fall.
The Tigers seemed stocked at receiver with Deon Cain, who led the team regulars with 19.1 yards per catch last fall heading a group of talented, hungry wideouts.
Quarterback could be a thornier prospect for Clemson. Junior Kelly Byrant opens camp as the starter, but the eyes of many are on five-star passer Hunter Johnson from Brownsburg, Indiana, who some vocal fans believe can slip seamlessly into Watson's cleats.
Bryant and Johnson were among those working with quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter in the first session.
"Nice and smooth, balanced," Streeter shouted as Bryant shuffled through some side-step drills. A few minutes later, Streeter pushed Bryant on his technique. "Work," the coach shouted. "Don't be lazy."
That's something Swinney does not think he'll have to worry about this fall. He says his players are hungry to feel the success of last year. It's ingrained into the team's DNA, Swinney said.
Need proof? As Hunter Renfrow extended for a catch in the sidelines, he was told, "You catch everything."
"I have to," joked Renfrow, who has signed countless "Sports Illustrated" covers adorned with his 2-yard TD grab with one second left that lifted the Tigers to their championship.
Swinney does not want to dim his team's spirit with everyone they're missing on offense, which also includes 1,000-yard rusher Wayne Gallman, tight end Jordan Leggett and center Jay Guillermo.
"Last year is last year. Everybody wants to talk about last year," said Bryant, a reserve who was third off bench behind Watson and Nick Schussler. "But we feel the guys in the offensive position rooms can do the same thing as the guys last year. We're all hungry."
The coach with the penchant for punchy phrases — who could forget his "BYOG, Bring Your Own Guts" after a 24-22 win over Notre Dame in 2015 — came up with "New Team, Same Dream" for this group.
"They know how we're supposed to practice. They know what the expectations are," Swinney said. "The vision of our program, that has to be enforced and defined and maintained from the bottom up. We're 31-2 in our last bunch of games. They know what it takes. They know what it looks like."
This article was written by Pete Iacobelli from The Associated Press and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to email@example.com.