Since February, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney has instilled the message into his 2017 team that they are not the same Tigers that rallied to beat Alabama in the National Championship Game last January.
The 5th ranked Tigers kick-off their season Saturday against Kent State. On Thursday, Swinney joined The Jim Rome Show to talk about how this year’s Tigers are not living in the past.
“We’re definitely not defending anything,” Swinney said on CBS Sports Radio, of last year’s title. “If it was the same exact team coming back then maybe we could be the defending champs, but it’s not. We’re a new team, new challenges, new journey, new chemistry, new leadership, new commitment, everything.”
“You don’t get to stay at the stop of the mountain, you literally have to start over every single year.
Swinney told his team they are “attacking champions.”
“To me, when you’re defending, it just sounds passive. We want to attack everything that we do here, so we got a lot of guys that are champions, but we’re not defending, we’re attacking to try to win another one.”
The biggest and most obvious change from this team to last year’s team is the starting quarterback. With former starter Deshaun Watson gone, Kelly Bryant will step in as the team’s new signal caller.
Swinney explained how Bryant won the starting job after an intense battle with redshirt freshman Zerrick Cooper and true freshman Hunter Johnson.
“Just consistency, day in and day out. He just won the job,” Swinney said. “You have to create competition, and it’s all spring, summer, all fall camp, and to this point, he’s won every phase of the competition. So there hasn’t been a tie, he’s won it. And so he’s earned the opportunity to go start.
“Now in college football, we don’t get preseason games. When we play, the scoreboard is for real. So the next step for Kelly is go continue to win the job on game day. And if he will just do three quarters of what he’s done on our practice field, he’s going to be a really good player.”
Of course, replacing the Heisman Trophy runner-up and NFL Draft first round pick, Watson, comes with a big spotlight. That’s why Swinney said it’s important for Kelly Bryant to remember he’s Kelly Bryant and not Watson.
“When you have a guy like Deshaun Watson who leaves your program, he’s left such a huge shadow and legacy here,” Swinney explained. “And it was important to me early on to make Kelly understand that. Hey listen, son. When I went and recruited you, I didn’t recruit you to be Deshaun. I recruited you to be Kelly Bryant. You earned your scholarship based on who you are and what you’ve done and how you’ve lived your life and how you’ve performed on the field and off the field and academically.
“My whole message to him was listen your job is to be the best version of Kelly Bryant and guess what, that’s what we want. That’s what we recruited.”