Deshaun Watson spent spring practice next to Dabo Swinney, which isn’t where he wanted.
Nothing against his coach, but Watson would have rather been running the offense, building cohesiveness with his receivers and generally working to improve on a freshman season filled with promise, but interrupted by injuries.
One of those — a torn ACL — caused him to miss the bowl win over Oklahoma. And even though his rehab is “way ahead of schedule,” Swinney said, Watson was allowed to run specific drills during spring practice.
“He was able to do a lot this spring from a football standpoint, drill work and things like that, throwing,” Swinney said on an ACC teleconference this week. “We didn’t put him in any type of situations, but every day, every team period, he would kind of mentally rep. I really just basically had him with me the whole time when we would do our competitive team stuff, so he had to really mentally stay sharp.”
Watson told SI.com that he’s on course to start the opener against Wofford on Sept. 5.
Despite missing five games — three with a broken finger and two others because of his knee — Watson energized Clemson in 2014.
From throwing a TD pass in his college debut against Georgia to helping the Tigers break a five-game losing streak to South Carolina while playing with the torn ACL, Watson showed why Swinney turned the QB duties over to him.
He completed 67.9 percent of his attempts for 1,466 yards and 14 TDs — with two interceptions — and 200 yards rushing and five more scores.
Swinney is looking forward to more this fall.
“I think as far as going into the season, this time last year he was just trying to kind of earn his way, if you will, and now he’s just at a whole ‘nother level from a mentality standpoint in that he’s had great success in his games,” Swinney said. “He’s played in Tallahassee. His confidence is — not that it was not good last year — but it’s one thing to plan to go do it, it’s another thing when you’ve done it.
“(I’m) just expecting to have him take it to another level from a mental standpoint.”