By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
The talk for much of the spring concerning the offensive line was whether or not Isaiah Battle could take over at left tackle, allowing Clemson offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell to move Brandon Ford—an All-American candidate—inside to his natural position at left guard.
It did not happen.
Thomas came out of spring drills as the projected starter at left tackle, while Battle fell behind converted tackle Eric Mac Lain on the depth chart. Caldwell was hoping maybe that would inspire Battle to do something about it during summer workouts, and though he has improved in some areas according to reports, he still has not done enough to unseat Thomas as the starting left tackle.
“He is strong and stout enough to do that, and we would love to see that happen, but he is not ready yet,” Caldwell said. “We had hoped that Isaiah would have stepped forward in the spring. But he has not put on weight and the things that are necessary to take over at that position.
“It is so key protecting our quarterback’s backside. Hopefully, it will come for him, and that would be ideal for us.”
For now, the Tigers will have to stick with plan “B” which will have Thomas at left tackle, David Beasley or Kalon Davis at left guard, Ryan Norton at center, Tyler Shatley at right guard and Gifford Timothy at right tackle.
“I feel good about our offensive line,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. “Obviously, we lost Dalton (Freeman) and I’m not excited we lost Dalton because that was a guy who was tremendous and was very consistent at physically snapping the ball and was such a coach on the field for us and that is hard to replace.
“But, I think we have good players. We have some young guys that are not quite ready. You know a guy like Isaiah Battle. I wish he was ready to take a job, but he is not ready. But maybe he will be a great backup for us. Maybe mid-season he will mature a little bit more, who knows.”
What Swinney does know is that he has a lot of guys that are going to provide a lot of competition and depth as they go throughout the season up front.
This time last year, Caldwell only had six or seven players he felt he could really count on, but this year he enters camp with eight to nine players that he feels will play a lot this season.
“I got a great group,” he said. “Most of the group is kind of unproven but they have had some playing time. I think all in all, we could end up having more depth and probably have eight or nine guys that are ready to go.
“Yes, you would love to have ten or twelve, but some have not worked as hard this summer to prepare themselves not only physically, but mentally. They have to go in there on their own and learn the little things. Nothing is that difficult, but when the movement of the defense starts and making this call and that call at the spur of the moment, some of them are not ready for that yet.”
But the guys who are ready include Mac Lain, who moved over from tight end last fall and has really come on at both guard and tackle. Caldwell also likes what he is hearing about Joe Gore and the progress he has made. He is excited Gore will be pain free when camp starts after having his knee scoped a few weeks back.
He also can’t wait to see how guys like Kalon Davis and David Beasley have come along at left guard, and he is interested to see the battle for the starting center job, between Norton and Jay Guillermo, get more and more heated.
Caldwell says Guillermo has not backed off Norton and is really pushing him for playing time.
“They all have the ability, it is just a matter of stepping up and handling it mentally with the pressure and the day-to-day grind and the hard work that it takes to produce at this level,” the Clemson coach said.