Clemson, S.C. —Clemson held its second practice of the preseason in helmets, jerseys and shorts on Wednesday. It was another productive day for the 12th ranked (USA Today, Sports Illustrated) Tigers who open their season September 5 against Wofford.
The media is allowed to watch practice this week and many noticed the play of the young wide receiver corps. The first question to Coach Swinney about the group concerned freshman Deon Cain of Tampa, Fla.
“Well that is recruiting for you,” said Swinney with a smile. Cain was a consensus national top 50 player coming out of high school. “He has done very well, but the best receiver through the first two days has been Trevion Thompson.
“Trevion has really improved. He sat out last year and learned and got better. I have been very impressed with him and all the guys at that position really.”
Cain did make a diving catch on a long pass from Deshaun Watson during a team passing drill. Watson was sharp, completing 12-15 passes for 216 yards during the seven-on-seven and team passing segments of the practice.
Swinney also talked about Mike Williams, who led Clemson in reception yards last year with 1030. “Mike can be another Nuk Hopkins. He is stronger than Nuk, but he needs to develop the killer instinct Nuk had here and continues to have at the next level.“
Swinney also commented on the tight end position, a position he said should be improved this year. “We are much deeper at tight end than we were last year. We really were hit by injuries there last year. Now we have Cannon Smith, Milan Richard, D.J. Greenlee and Garrett Williams in the mix, and Jay Jay McCullough has been good so far. They give us a big shot in the arm.
“Stanton Seckinger is coming off of injury, but he will be a big contributor. And, I have been very impressed with what I have seen from Jordan Leggett.” Leggett made a brilliant diving catch during the team pass practice.
The Tigers will wear some pads (shells) on Thursday and eventually put on the full uniform for Saturday night’s practice. “I have been pleased with what I have seen so far, but in shorts there is only so much you can do. You can work on assignments and being in the right place, but football is a game of physical and mental.”
Swinney said after practice that quarterback Tucker Israel will have surgery on his broken foot on Friday. Israel suffered the injury within the first few periods of the first practice on Tuesday. He is expected to miss at least four weeks. The only other player to miss practice due to injury on Wednesday was linebacker Korie Rogers. He is expected to return soon.
Watson Has Strong First Practice
Clemson, S.C.—Quarterback Deshaun Watson was back on the practice fields in full go mode for the first time since November 29 and the reviews from Coach Dabo Swinney and Watson himself were good.
Playing with a torn ACL, Watson led Clemson to a victory over South Carolina in the regular season finale last year. He had surgery shortly thereafter and has been in rehabilitation mode ever since. He joined the team for workouts in late June, but Tuesday’s first practice of the season was his first full scale workout since the South Carolina game.
“He was outstanding,” said Swinney with a smile after practice. “He looked like he had just played a game last week. Deshaun has a great work ethic and put in a lot of time over the spring and summer. He is one of the most disciplined and prepared players I have seen and it was great to have him back at practice today.”
Watson played 330 of Clemson’s 990 offensive snaps last year and led Clemson to four wins in five starts. He completed 68 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions. His 188.6 passing efficiency rating was best in the nation among quarterbacks with at least 125 passes. He was voted the preseason ACC Player of the Year by the media attending the ACC Football Kickoff at Pinehurst last month.
“It felt great to get back out here,” said Watson, who will wear a brace on the knee throughout the season. “I have been working hard the entire off season. It was a day I have been looking forward to.”
While Watson was back in strong form, the Tigers did lose a quarterback early in the first practice. Freshman Tucker Israel of Orlando, Fla., suffered a broken foot during a drill and should be out a number of weeks. “He broke the fifth metatarsal bone in a foot early in the practice,” said Swinney. “He will be out at least four week. It is the same injury Garry Peters had last year when he was out a month during the 2013 season. “
Israel enrolled at Clemson in January and threw for 110 yards in the spring game. An honorable mention Parade All-American, Israel broke Tim Tebow’s state record for career touchdown passes with 162 and passed for over 15,000 yards.
Despite that injury, Swinney was happy with his team’s first practice. “It was a good first day. It was a day of learning good practice habits. There was good energy throughout and that was great to see. I liked the tempo. Tomorrow and the next few days will be about installation and continuing to focus on fundamentals.
Clemson continues practice this week through Saturday before taking a day off on Sunday.