By Ashley Denny.
CLEMSON, SC- After three and a half weeks of fall camp, starting right tackle Landon Walker feels as if he and his teammates are much more prepared and confident going into the 2011 season as compared to last season when the Tigers finished with a disappointing 6-7 record.
“I think the attitude of this team is completely different from last years,” Walker said. “I feel more prepared already than I did at this point last season going into our first game. I feel like guys are buying into what we’re trying to this Saturday.”
As a senior, how exciting has it been for Walker to witness these changes on both the practice field and during scrimmages?
It’s been very exciting for me to see that, the difference between last year and this year as far as taking game week seriously and guys really being focused at practice. The whole attitude of the team has just changed completely.”
Walker believes that the new leaders on this Tiger squad have played a huge role in changing the attitude of the team as a whole.
“We’ve got our senior core this year, a lot of guys that have been there,” Walker said. “We’ve got a lot of experience across the senior offensive line, and everybody else who has seen a lot of playing time throughout their career. And that’s where leadership comes from, from guys who have had experience playing who can teach these younger guys what they know, and what to expect on Saturdays.”
On Saturday at 3:30 PM, the biggest challenge for Walker personally will be lining up against one of the top defensive ends in the country in Troy’s Jonathan Massaquoi, who had 13.5 sacks for the Trojans in 2010. What has Walker seen of Massaquoi and Troy’s defense on film that may cause the Tigers some problems?
“They’ve got a lot of great athletes across the front,” Walker said. “A lot of guys that we haven’t seen because they’ve brought in a lot of guys from Junior College and stuff like that. But as far as Massaquoi, he’s a very talented guy, reminds me of a mix between Andre Branch and Kourtnei Brown. He’s just one of those guys that if you fall asleep on he’ll definitely get a sack off of you.”
Walker is confident though that he can contain Massaquoi when he’s lined up against him and keep him from getting to quarterback Tajh Boyd.
“It’s nothing I haven’t seen before,” Walker said. “It seems like every time we play a team with a good defensive end, he’s over me so it’s the same old story and I’ll be ready for it. I’ll be prepared for him and I expect him to be prepared for me.”
After having surgery on his knee earlier this summer, Walker believes that he has been back to being 100% for over two weeks or three weeks now, needing only the first week of camp to recover.
Although Clemson has been polishing their new offensive scheme for the past few weeks, they have yet to try it out against a defense that wasn’t their own. How excited are Walker and his offensive teammates to see how Offensive Coordinator Chad Morris’s offense works in a game situation?
“We were talking about this earlier in camp, it’s very exciting for us because we haven’t seen how our offense works against a different defense,” Walker said. “We’ve had a lot of success in camp against our own defense, which is a very good defense. It’ll be very different to see how defenses react to our offense, I think we’re going to do a lot of things to keep them off guard, hopefully that will happen throughout the game. Obviously there will be some adversity out there, and how we handle it will be the outcome of the game.”
Walker feels like the team has done a much better job this offseason of handling adversity, something he knows they will have to do in order to win football games.
“In spring practice and camp, when something goes wrong you have to have that next play mentality,” Walker said. “We’ve got to get back up and not really worry about what happened whether it is a loss of yardage or a sack, we’ve just got to get back up and forget about it. I don’t feel like we’ve done a great job of that in the past but that idea is starting to circulate throughout the team.”
A fresh start is something that Walker and the rest of his teammates have been waiting for all offseason, wanting badly to get that bad taste out of their mouth and put the 2010 season behind them.
“I think Coach Swinney said it best that we’ve been waiting to get rid of that taste since the bowl game,” Walker said. “We’ve been preparing since then and trying to work, facing critics ever since, people saying how terrible we’re going to be and how terrible we were. I think we’re all just sick and tired of it; we’re ready to prove that this is a different team, a new year and we’ve got a lot of different things to offer. I think this is going to be a very exciting year, and I think every guy on the team is excited to get out there and show that.”