By Will Vandervort.
Young running backs are making some noise
By Will Vandervort
Isaiah Battle isn’t sure how close he is to becoming the starter at left tackle for eighth-ranked Clemson, but he is getting closer with each practice.
“I’m very close. I’m at the tip of the iceberg right now,” he said following Friday morning’s practice. “They are throwing me in every which way. They are throwing me in the first group, though I’m mainly in the second, but they keep throwing me in the first group to see what I have.”
The Clemson coaches are not sure what they have with Battle just yet. Offensive coordinator Chad Morris says the light keeps “going on and off” for Battle.
“It just depends on which way the wind is blowing,” he said. “There are times when we all know what he is capable of and he is looking really good and then there are times when has to keep pushing. That’s just the maturity level of it. We know what he can do when he is set and focused.
“He is having his opportunities, I will tell you that.”
When Battle is messing up, the first person to come to his assistance is Brandon Thomas, the guy he is trying to beat out as the starting left tackle.
“I learn through him because he has been here so long. I watch him,” Battle said. “Every mistake I make, he corrects me. He wants to move to guard if I can take over at left tackle because he knows we can be a dominant force.”
Before he can be a dominate force, Morris, and offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell, first want Battle to improve. He has to work on the little things, like staying low, which isn’t easy for his 6-foot-6 frame. He also has to improve on his foot work and hands.
“Footwork is a big deal,” Battle said. “The defense can go any which way and they can bull-rush you. You always have to stay low, stagger and use your hands the whole time.”
Battle’s main goal this camp is to stay patient and wait for his opportunities. His first big one will come in Saturday’s scrimmage in Death Valley. The good news, the coaches know what he is capable of doing thanks to his performance in the Chick-fil-A Bowl against LSU. He just has to start showing them that he can do it more consistently.
“I have to step up to the plate. I’m not a freshman anymore,” Battle said. “It’s about that time to step up. We are not playing anymore games. I have to come out and work hard every day.
“I have to show the coaches that I can really step up and they can be really confident in me.”
Young running backs look good. Morris said his young running backs are really coming through so far in camp. He said walk-on C.J. Davidson and sophomore Zac Brooks have been pleasant surprises and that his two freshmen—Tyshon Dye and Wayne Gallman—are violent runners.
“They have definitely had their moments,” Morris said.
Morris says at some point Dye and Gallman are going to be really good running backs and that he is “proud of them.”
“They have picked up what we have thrown at them,” he said. “We went through a different install where basically 95 percent of our offense is in. We have really thrown a lot at them and at some point, in this camp, they will hit a wall and we have to make sure they work through that and push them through it as a coaching staff.
“I will tell you this, they are as violent of runners as we got. There is some great competition going on, let’s just put it that way. I don’t know if they will end up playing. You would like to redshirt them this year, but I can tell you those guys are grabbing a lot of people’s attention.”
Decent battle at center. Ryan Norton and Jay Guillermo continue to have what Morris calls a “descent battle” at center. Norton is still considered to be the leader, but Guillermo has made up some ground since the spring.
Morris says there has been some issue with high snaps from both guys and he would like to see them push each other a little bit harder.
“I don’t want them to think there is any kind of pecking order because I think they think there is and there really isn’t one,” the Clemson coach said.
Mac Lain working at guard. Left guard David Beasley was hurt in Thursday night’s practice so the Clemson coaches moved Eric Mac Lain inside to left guard, a role he shared the last two days with Kalon Davis. Davis is getting the reps with the first team, but Mac Lain has played well and is having a good camp thus far.
Beasley is expected to be okay and could play in Saturday’s scrimmage.
Mac Lain, who is over 300 pounds, has also been used as an extra tackle in Clemson’s heavy packages. Morris is using this to off-set losing a guy like Sam Cooper at tight end. Mac Lain gives them an extra body.
“It is kind of a tackle-over kind of play, a heavy package, kind of like Stanford does,” he said. “We have just been utilizing me or Isaiah and putting us out at that tight end for run blocking purposes.”
But don’t think that is all Mac Lain will do if he lines up there. Since he will have to check in as an eligible receiver, Morris could use Mac Lain’s skill set as a former tight end in a couple of trick plays to keep defenses honest when they see that formation. Mac Lain says he still has the nice hands and his nimble feet to make something happen if they decide to throw the ball to him a couple of times.
“I hope so man,” he laughed. “I’m itching to catch another pass. I need to run a little bit. It will be fun… They probably forgot about the hands and feet. I had a little bit of quickness back in the day.”