CLEMSON — Over the last month, the question has come up, again and again: what about Tyler Shatley?
Saturday, the converted junior defensive tackle will make his first start at right guard when No.14 Clemson opens the 2012 season against Auburn in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome.
Time and again, Shatley’s teammates and coaches have expressed nothing but utmost confidence.
“I’m not worried about Shatley at all,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “I know it’s crazy since he’s never played offensive line in his life except for a few weeks (in practice). But I’m not worried about him.”
Nervousness is always part of the buildup to game day, and even more so this week, Shatley said.
“It’s going to be a big game for me,” he said. “I’m a little nervous, you get first-game jitters, but you’re always going to have those, whether it’s your first time playing the position or your thirteenth start at the end of the season, you’re always nervous. It’ll be nice to get those first-game jitters out of the way.”
Shatley has 444 career snaps over 26 games, including two starts, so he’s hardly a rookie. That experience, he said, will help Saturday.
“I feel a little more comfortable now that I’ve played in a lot of games,” he said. “It’ll be different, being on the other side of the ball, coming into the game. I’ll have the other four guys on the line with me. On defense, there’s only four of you and you’re going out there, taking on double-teams. But it’ll be a nice change of pace.”
This spring and summer, Shatley improved his offensive knowledge, footwork and hands.
“I’m trying to be smooth with the plays,” he said. “Not go out there and think as much, just play.”
Watson, DL ready too: Sophomore Josh Watson will be part of a three-man rotation at the two defensive tackle spots along with fellow sophomores Grady Jarrett and DeShawn Williams. Although Williams is the only one of the three with more than 100 snaps, Watson says the trio is confident.
“I believe we’re going to go out there and play as hard as we can, nonstop, 100 percent the whole time,” he said. “(Defensive tackles) coach (Dan) Brooks is going to rotate us in case we get tired. We’re going to go 100 percent every play. We know our job. There’s no excuse for making mistakes since we’ve been repping this since the spring and fall. It’s not a hard playbook. We should be able to not make any mental mistakes.”
Watson admits he’s both “excited and nervous” for Saturday.
“Nervous because I want to do well, not because I’m scared,” he said. “I’ve been thinking about it, daydreaming about it. I can’t wait for it to come around and help my team out.”
Howard takes Auburn personally: Sophomore tailback D.J. Howard is a Lincoln, Ala., native and former Auburn commitment; Auburn wanted him to play linebacker, but Howard switched to Clemson on national signing day 2010, swayed by the promise of playing tailback. He enjoyed the best game of his young career against AU last year, carrying nine times for 86 yards.
“Being from Alabama, the Alabama-Auburn rivalry is a big deal. I was always for Alabama,” Howard said. “Me going against Auburn is my own personal rivalry. I’m going to bring a lot into it, a lot of emotions, I’ve got big expectations for this game, personally.”
This time around, Howard feels better prepared. A year ago, he “just got thrown into the fire. It was all instinct and I had to perform.”