Swinney previews Syracuse, updates Kelly Bryant's status

Staff reports, Tigerillustrated.com
Tiger Illustrated

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CLEMSON -- Clemson (6-0, 4-0) head football coach Dabo Swinney addressed members of the media Tuesday as part of his weekly news conference, this time to preview his team's Friday night matchup versus Syracuse (3-3, 1-1). The Tigers are a 22.5-point favorite over the Orange.

The following is an edited transcript of Swinney's Tuesday presser.

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Opening statement: "I know it'll be a great crowd. That's a tough environment. We were fortunate to get out of there two years ago.

"I love how our team has come to work this week. Mondays are always long days for them. That's their lab days. They had another late practice yesterday. I just like how they have responded. They've been workmanlike. They're excited about this trip. We have a lot of guys who have not made this trip.

"Dino has done an awesome job. I just think we have a bunch of great coaches in this league who are doing a great job. You can just see it. I've seen a lot of change. In fact Friday night will be my ninth-year anniversary in this job. I'll tell you what; we've got a great group of coaches in our conference. Dino is an outstanding coach. You can see it coming for him. I know he's going to do a great job. They're much improved. We just got up on them last year and the game got away. We expect a hard, fourth quarter battle.

"This Dungy kid is a good player. He's 6-3. They're confident in what they do. They play fast. If you give them any grass, they take it. They get the ball out quick. If you get in their face quickly, it's catch, cock and throw. They have a 290-pound running back. It's crazy. They do some neat stuff. They have every screen known to mankind. They've got it. They're a challenge. They play with great technique. They've got the two best receivers we have played. No. 2 and No. 8, they're the real deal. I thought Mike Williams was in San Diego.

"Defensively, they're experienced. This is a legit group. They've got 16 guys back who started at some point last year. They have good depth up front. They're playing eight guys up front. They're not as deep in the secondary. They're really good. It's a good group. They pressure not quite 50-percent of the time but there are a ton of pressures. Lot of run-stop pressures. They're a good team. You have to execute well up there."

Q: How much does the bye help next week?

Swinney: "It helps because we're going into game seven. It's seven days a week and it's such a routine. So it helps, yes. We're looking forward to taking a deep breath. We also get a lot of work done during the open week, a lot of crossover work. We prepare for the rest of the season, plus you want to get healthy. This week is about emptying the tank. Whatever we've got in it, we need to empty it.

Q: How has Kelly Bryant responded to treatment so far this week?

Swinney: "He has been good. Practiced all day yesterday and moved around well. I was encouraged."

Q: How is Justin Foster?

Swinney: "He's doing well. I think he was good to go yesterday. He practiced yesterday."

Q: How much is the secondary's progress attributed to the boxing gloves?

Swinney: "It was my idea, but I stole it from Bill Belichick. I figured he's a pretty smart guy. If it's good enough for him, it's good enough for us. It's something we had to improve on. It was unbelievable. We were dead last in pass interference calls last year. We needed to improve. It's something I wanted us to start doing. We've done that all through camp and one-on-ones. We force them to win with their feet where they cannot rely on grabbing. We've improved. We're going to have some calls along the way but we've made improvement."

Q: What changes have you seen in the Syracuse program over the last couple of years?

Swinney: "They have a clear identity. They had a big transition from a coaching standpoint. Dino has a plan, there is a clear identity there. He's an excellent leader there. He's going to do a great job there. He has given them an identity that they need. They went to LSU and they competed with everything that they've got. NC State was a tight game, too. They competed their tails off. From my eyes, those are things I can tell. I'm looking at who they are as a team. I can tell if they believe in what they are doing and they do it well. It's obvious. I see how they respond.

"They're very capable of beating us. They're headed in the right direction. We've got to play well every single week. We know we're going to get everyone's best shot. I don't want to sit around and wait for someone to play bad. We're not worried about the opponent, though. We just want to play our best. That's what it's going to take. You're going to see down the road where this will be a program that will get better in a hurry.

"They embarrassed us a couple of years ago up there. We jumped on them pretty quickly and the next thing you knew we were in a dogfight. We couldn't score enough points. They went through us that night. We were fortunate to win the game."

Q: Talk about Mitch Hyatt's play thus far.

Swinney: "He was our MVP of the game this past week. Hopefully we'll have some postseason play around here. He has started 29 of 30 games around here. This is huge for him. He's played a lot of games here. He is a junior now. To have some depth where we can rest him is huge. We had eight guys (up front) play 30+ snaps last week. We just have a lot of options. I felt like in August we'd be able to run the ball better and we have."

Q: Talk about fluctuating kickoff times, travel and the toll it takes on a team.

Swinney: "You have to be able to handle it. You have to know what it takes every week. If you don't have that, you'll be distracted. Our guys understand that. I met with our guys Sunday. I told them this is where I needed them to help me in the training table, the locker room, on the bus. You need a certain mindset to be successful so that you're not overwhelmed. No need to not embrace it because you can't do anything about it."

Q: Talk about the Carrier Dome. It's a lot different than the venues you're used to.

Swinney: "It's unique. It's different. I've been everywhere from coast to coast. You name it. The Carrier Dome is unique. We went up there two years ago. It's different than the Georgia Dome. When we land, we go by there and let them walk around. It's a little different. It's a very different setting just like it is for basketball teams. We went up there two years ago and that night they were playing basketball. The next day, it was a football field. Let me tell you, it gets loud in there. It'll get loud and intense. They have great history at Syracuse. I talk to our guys about that, too. I'll let them know they've had a few dudes come out of Syracuse."

Q: Nine years ago come Friday night, you got the head coaching job. Will you be reflecting on that much?

Swinney: "Yes, absolutely. That day will be in my mind forever. That's the first thing I saw when I looked at the schedule. I'll always remember that date. You always remember where you came from. Now, we keep plowing ahead. It'll be a neat day regardless of what happens. But I hope it's a good Friday the 13th."

Q: Talk about the Wake game and the importance of the atmosphere, students being there, etc.

Swinney: "I know they sold all the tickets. I don't know (the particulars). That's the administration and they're working on all that to make sure it's coordinated properly. It's so important that we have a great environment. Every team wants to have a great home environment. I know there have been some changes. I don't really know the specifics. I'm trying to get a team ready to play. The administration will work on that."

Q: Talk about Hunter and Zerrick and what you've seen from them in limited time.

Swinney: "Both of them, they practice everyday, every week. In the NFL, the first guy gets all the reps. Here, the backups get plenty of reps. We rep our guys. They get a ton of work. They've all scrimmaged. We're going into our seventh game now. They've been playing their entire lives. Both have done a good job for us this year. They got in at Louisville. Last week that game was still in the balance and against a good defense. I know y'all are tied of me bragging on Wake Forest, but it was important for them to play ball and execute with the game on the line. That game wasn't won when they got in."

Q: Talk about Ray-Ray and the progress he has made.

Swinney: "He's catching the ball. I believe in Ray-Ray. You see something in practice and you get frustrated at times because it's not translating to the game field sometimes. I fired him a couple of times last year but I love Ray-Ray. I think he's just blossoming and coming into his own. He played one of his best games last week. He had some yards after the contact that was a big play because he got more yardage due to his extra effort. His confidence now is really high. I don't think he had quite the maturity to match his talent when he got here.

"He's a great kid. I'm talking about having what it was going to take to be a great player from a mindset standpoint. He took some things for granted a little bit. He's worked hard at that this past year. I'm proud of him. He's a weapon. He can change a game on one play. He's really bought into that."

Q: He's also your leading receiver. Does one thing fuel the other?

Swinney: "It doesn't hurt. That's for sure. I just think he has worked harder and has focused on being great at being a good return man. He can change direction and has explosiveness. He has taken a lot of pride in that. He's become a leader. He was a captain last week."

Q: What's your pitch to still get guys in, particularly backup QBs, when they're going to have to be increasingly patient for playing time?

Swinney: "Same as it is to everyone else. Not really a pitch. It's the truth. It's a great place. Come here and we'll help you get better. I don't promise anything to anyone. The best players will play, whether it's a five star or a walk-on like Hunter Renfrow. It's a great place, a great academic institution, you'll have great people around you and we'll challenge you athletically and academically. I get out of the way and let them spend time with our players. Everyone wants to play. If you have the talent and character and stick with it, usually it works out. Some guys need to develop more and it takes longer but again most of the time it'll work out in a good way."

Q: Is it fair to say Kelly will start Friday?

Swinney: "Kelly is our starter. That doesn't change. We'll see him go practice today. He didn't miss a rep yesterday. Hopefully he'll be able to go again today."

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