Clemson held one of its most important practices of the 2020 preseason: the last scrimmage.
Working out inside Memorial Stadium on Wednesday, the No. 1 Tigers hope it was the perfect lead into game preparation for the Sept. 12 opener at Wake Forest.
"Two and a half weeks out, this was a big day for a lot of guys in just proving that they're ready," Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. "We're looking for as many dependable, functional guys that can go win for us as we can find and today was a fun day to see these guys compete and mix it up a lot."
The Tigers worked in the open field and all the field zones while mixing in "some really good" two-minute drills. Swinney said they also worked in "seven or eight" unique game-specific situations that was a good challenge for players and coaches.
Clemson also used the scrimmage to work on several special teams situations as well.
"A lot of guys made some big plays on both sides," Swinney said. "I was impressed with our corners tackling, especially (Andrew) Booth. Maybe his best day, made some really, really good open-field tackles."
Swinney said the sophomore defensive back didn't have a great scrimmage the last time out but made up for it with a big Wednesday.
Overall, it was a turnover-producing day for the defense, which forced three interceptions. Freshman safety Malcolm Greene had two of those picks while freshman R.J. Mickens had the other. Senior safety Nolan Turner came up with a fumble recovery to mark the most turnovers in one day of the preseason for the Tigers, Swinney said.
"The flip side to that, offensively, we put the ball on the ground too much and didn't think our tempo was as good offensively as far as throughout the day, but really like where we are as a team," Swinney said. "Both sides have really made a lot of strides. I love the progression that we've had in camp."
Clemson now turns its attention to depth-chart decisions. The Tigers will practice again Thursday and then take the rest of the weekend off. When they return Monday, prep for Wake Forest will begin and reps will be lessened for some players.
"A very productive day from a teaching standpoint," Swinney said. "Hopefully this is one of those days that down the road as we go throughout the season, some of these things are going to get solved and talked about because they're going to come up, we can have the type of recall that we're going to need in those situations."
Here are more of the highlights and notes from Swinney's assessment of Wednesday's scrimmage:
- Coming off a three-day break last weekend, Clemson tested its players for COVID-19 on Monday and there were zero positives, which Swinney was proud to announce.
- One issue the team had Wednesday was sloppy penalties. Swinney said there were several personal fouls called, and cleaning up the discipline is the goal moving forward.
- Tight end Luke Price was the only injury Swinney reported from the scrimmage. Price made a big catch in the two-minute situation, but Swinney was told after practice that he suffered an injury.
- Several Tigers continue to be on the mend, but that situation is improving. Swinney said his team looked like Georgia Tech with all of the yellow (injured) jerseys on the field lately. However, Booth is back after missing a few days. Tight end Sage Ennis has returned since coming down with mononucleosis, and defensive lineman Etinosa Reuben is back as well.
- Linebacker Jake Venables missed Wednesday's scrimmage with a hamstring strain. Running back Chez Melusi, who's been out over a week, is close to returning. Running back Lyn-J Dixon, who has also missed time and is still working his way back to full strength, is expected to return in full Monday.
- Offensive lineman Tayquon Johnson is back while Blake Vinson is close to finally returning after having knee surgery last season. Swinney said he will provide a "shot in the arm" for an offensive line that is still looking for a functional, trustworthy second team.
- Swinney said senior receiver Cornell Powell has continued his consistency, but sophomores Joseph Ngata and Frank Ladson and freshman Ajou Ajou "you can't help but notice."
- Receiver Brannon Spector had a 40-plus yard catch that set up a winning field goal during Wednesday's scrimmage.
- Swinney said the death of Jacob Blake was discussed among the team, and his hope is that there is awareness to hold people accountable: "There are really no words to describe it other than just incredibly disgusting and disappointing to see something like that take place."
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