Clemson’s Swinney excited about positive changes for Tigers

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CLEMSON, S.C. – Clemson coach Dabo Swinney won’t let all the questions about changes on the Tigers ruin his excitement to get back on the field.

“This team has a great vibe to it already,” Swinney said as Clemson continued spring drills Friday.

The perpetually positive Swinney probably has more need for it these days with his team breaking in four new assistants including first-time Clemson coordinators on defense in Wes Goodwin and offense in Brandon Streeter.

Goodwin and co-coordinator Mickey Conn take over for longtime defensive icon Brent Venables, who left to become Oklahoma’s head coach.

Streeter, the team’s quarterbacks coach, steps up after play-caller Tony Elliott took over as Virginia’s head coach.

Former Clemson standout Nick Eason, a first-team all-Atlantic Coast Conference pick at defensive tackle in 2002, was hired to coach that position after Todd Bates joined Venables’ staff with the Sooners.

Longtime offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell retired to an off-field position for the Tigers with former Clemson center Thomas Austin hired to succeed Caldwell.

Kyle Richardson was named to coach tight ends, something Elliott did before heading to Virginia.

“We’ve had a great, uncommon stability here so our world was shaken with Coach V and some of those guys leaving,” Clemson defensive end K.J. Henry said.

Swinney acknowledged the changes led to a few extra sessions of “coaching the coaches” to get prepped for spring ball. The Tigers will conclude workouts with their annual Orange and White game on April 9.

All certainly seemed good as Clemson went through its second practice Friday.

Henry said it has been fun watching Goodwin step into a leadership role on a defensive group that will have questions after losing five starters among its linebackers and secondary who opened in a 20-13 win over Iowa State in the Cheez-it Bowl last December.

Goodwin is not the loud, crazed wild-man Venables showed on the sideline at times the past 10 years. But Goodwin is a smart coach who can diagnose mistakes and put players in good positions to perform at their peak, Henry said.

“He’s going all the right things in the right ways,” Henry said. “He’s going to be good for us.”

Offensive lineman Jordan McFadden said Austin, who was part of Clemson’s staff as an offensive analyst last season, has gained the trust of his players at a position where starters Hunter Rayburn had to give up football due to a neck injury and center Mason Trotter will be out most of the year with an undisclosed issue.

All Swinney would say is what Trotter is dealing with is “not a legal issue or a university issue.”

Streeter’s biggest concern on offense is getting starting quarterback DJ Uiagalelei playing like he was expected to at the start of last season. Uiagalelei has shed about 15 pounds, Swinney said, and has healed from a sprained right knee ligament sustained last November and a tendon injury on the index finger of his throwing hand.

Swinney thought Uiagalelei improved as the season went on and the Tigers, after starting 2-2, won eight of nine games for their 11th straight season of 10 wins or more.

Uiagalelei entered last season a trendy pick for the Heisman Trophy, a push that faded as he struggled early and the Tigers faded from the ACC and College Football Playoff race.

Swinney said national championship quarterbacks Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence made their share of errors, bad reads and poor throws, too. “DJ’s mistakes were magnified,” Swinney said. “We weren’t near as good around him as we were around those other two dudes.”

Uiagalelei said he’s improved his technique and his diet to help the Tigers reach their championship goals. He called last season one of the most challenging of his career. “But it’s a blessing in disguise,” he said.

Despite its strong finish, McFadden said players were disappointed at ending a six-year run of ACC titles and CFP appearances. He believes the team is ready to start a new streak this season.

“We want to give ourselves a chance to win those big games,” he said. “Since we didn’t last year, it was a different feeling, a feeling I didn’t like.”

Air Force football sanctioned for recruiting violations

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AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. — The Air Force football program received two years of probation from the NCAA and had its squad size reduced by 10 for four years as part of its sanctions for recruiting violations.

The penalties were announced Thursday after Air Force and four individuals reached an agreement with NCAA enforcement staff on recruiting violations. A fifth individual in the case has contested their role and will be heard by the committee on infractions.

The sanctions also include a fine and a reduction of 46 total official visits for the football program in the 2022-23 and `23-24 academic years. In addition, there’s a prohibition on unofficial visits in football from Sept. 1 through Oct. 12, 2022, and a reduced number of evaluation days this fall.

Air Force has around 115 players on its varsity roster, plus a JV team that all count as NCAA athletes and its roster size.

“The (committee) appreciates the parties’ efforts in working collaboratively together to reach agreement on the violations, levels, classifications, and significant and meaningful penalties,” Gary Miller, the chief hearing officer for the panel and president at Akron, said in a statement. “The panel also recognizes that Air Force has gone above and beyond in its overall approach to this case.”

In a joint statement, Air Force Academy Superintendent Lt. Gen. Richard Clark and director of athletics Nathan Pine said: “The U.S. Air Force Academy is pleased that our case has progressed to the point of the NCAA accepting our negotiated resolution. We will continue working with the NCAA on this ongoing self-reported case from the COVID dead period, as it’s our responsibility to ensure integrity of the institution, athletics department, cadet-athletes and staff.”

The Falcons are off to a 3-1 start and host Navy on Saturday to begin the Commander-in-Chief’s Trophy competition. The trophy is presented to the service academy with the best record in the round-robin format.

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”