By Will Vandervort.
By Will Vandervort
Iron sharpens iron, and one person sharpens the wits of another.
That might sound like a Biblical reference, and it is, but Proverbs 27:17 is how Clemson defensive tackle D.J. Reader described the level of competition the Tigers are having in the trenches so far in camp.
Even before training camp began on Aug. 2, head coach Dabo Swinney was singing the praises of his defensive line, and with good reason. The Tigers have three starters back up front and are at least three deep with quality talent at each position.
And though the offensive line has four starters back and is deeper than it has ever been under Swinney, they are seldom as talked about. To Reader, it’s obvious the offensive linemen have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder, and they’re daring the defensive linemen to knock it off.
“They have been coming at us pretty good and they are also a team that has a lot of depth over there,” he said after Monday’s first practice.
Since the first day they put on the pads, the offensive line has challenged the more talked about defensive front. In Paw Drills last Wednesday—the first day of full pads—the offensive line set the tone for camp when they dominate the drill. Then in Saturday’s scrimmage they turned things up a notch by opening up gaping holes for running back Roderick McDowell and Zac Brooks, who combined to average 9.9 yards per carry.
“It is very relieving,” right guard Tyler Shatley said. “You make a good block and you look up and see a running back running over a DB or making a move on them. It makes you feel good because when you make your block, then they can do a little bit more.
“When all of us are working hard, there is no telling what we can do.”
With the offensive line coming right at the Tigers’ defensive front, it has forced Reader and his friends to make some adjustments, which has led to a few victories as well for the defensive line in camp. After losing the Paw Drill last week, they bounced back to win the short yardage and goal line situations in that same practice.
Though they gave up a couple of long runs in the scrimmage, they once again closed strong with another dominating effort in short yardage and goal line reps.
“It was really good that it was just a scrimmage,” Reader said. “Our offense is really good, and everybody knows that. Going against a great offense like that, one that is high speed and is getting a play off every seven seconds, it is really good for the young guys to learn and us too.”
The offensive line’s improvements in camp are not totally motivational driven. Shatley feels it helps that the group is so close both on and off the field.
“I think we really came together,” he said. “We didn’t make as many mental errors as we did last year, especially for a first scrimmage. Everybody played really hard and the tempo was good. Everybody is in really good shape and has been running and trying hard to stay that way because that helps our tempo. That will help us in the third and fourth quarter in wearing down defenses.”
Reader says the offensive line’s depth, and their ability to play so many people at all the positions, mixed in with the tempo, will be effective at wearing defenses down.
“They have a lot of depth and a lot of good players, too,” the sophomore said. “There are a lot of very strong guys. They have done a great job in the off-season. They have worked just as hard as we have and they want to get the credit they deserve, too. They are coming at us, and we are coming right back at them.”
In other words, iron sharpens iron.
“We are going to keep fighting every day,” Reader said.