The best way to fish is to not need any fish.
That’s how Clemson football Dabo Swinney would describe navigating NCAA transfer waters swirling with activity. The Tigers wanted to hook an offensive lineman and he got away, but Swinney is satisfied with the big ones they already had through recruiting.
“We’re not a catch-and-release type program,” Swinney said. “… If we can’t get the best high school kids anymore, then we’ll have to adjust.”
Even after losing defensive coordinator Brent Venables to Oklahoma and offensive coordinator Tony Elliott to Virginia, Clemson still has every player who went through spring practice. Swinney promoted quarterbacks coach Brandon Streeter, as well as defensive assistants Wes Goodwin and Mickey Conn. None of the players left. Even safety Tyler Venables, Brent’s son, is back.
Clemson begins practice Aug. 5 and kicks off the season Sept. 5 at Georgia Tech, with the home opener against Furman a week later.
“There were only four of the Power Five teams that didn’t have somebody leave during spring or after spring,” Swinney said. “I think that says a lot about what our players think about our coaches, but more importantly, what they think about their experience and their love of Clemson, the culture and each other.
“It’s the right thing for some guys to move on, whether they are a graduate or just want more opportunity to play or whatever. If we do a good job of loving our players, serving our players, making sure they have a good experience, … they’re going to stay.”
Swinney said he individually talked with every player in April.
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“Every now and then, you’ll have a meeting where you have to take a deep breath because it’s going to be a tough meeting,” he said. “Or you’ll have a meeting and you’re not on the same page. I didn’t have any of that this year.”
Clemson did add a player from the transfer portal.
“Boomerang portal,” Swinney said.
Hunter Johnson, a quarterback for Clemson in 2017, went to Northwestern and started five games in his first season there. The 23-year-old asked Swinney about a graduate assistant position and also mentioned having another year of eligibility. Swinney said Johnson is third string, behind junior starter DJ Uiagalelei and freshman backup Cade Klubnik.
Clemson coaches did want to add an offensive lineman.
With the graduation of Matt Buckhorst, career-ending injury to Hunter Rayburn and Mason Trotter out indefinitely for personal reasons, the Tigers were weakened up the middle. Will Putnam moved from guard to starting center.
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Clemson reportedly extended an offer to O’Cyrus Torrence, first-team All-Sun Belt guard at Louisiana, but he chose Florida.
“There were a few guys we were talking to,” Clemson offensive line coach Thomas Austin said. “We brought a young man in and did the whole process with him. He went somewhere else. … It was just a matter of finding a veteran. We didn’t find him. That’s fine. We’ve got enough guys on our team to do everything we need to do.
“We want to build through our team. We want to build through the high schools. Our portal is the locker room.”
Todd Shanesy covers Clemson athletics for the USA TODAY Network.