Robbie Caldwell sees potential, seeks toughness from Clemson offensive line

Clemson Football - Robbie Caldwell

Photo by Mark Crammer

Clemson Football - Robbie Caldwell

Working on toughness

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— As an offensive lineman, Robbie Caldwell never shied away from contact, and he has a good reason why.

“I hated running,” the jovial veteran offensive line coach said last week. “I’d much rather get in there and hit.”

As Caldwell begins his second year as Clemson’s offensive line coach, he’s seeing a few versions of himself in his command.

“This whole group… I love the things coach (Dabo) Swinney does with three-on-three drills at the beginning of practice, and none of them have backed away,” he said last week at Swinney’s media golf outing. “And usually, all freshmen are a little bit skeptical about getting in there with the older guys. This group, they’ve accepted the challenge. They’ll hit you.”

Caldwell is seeking toughness from a rebuilt offensive line that will serve as a key to Clemson’s 2012 success. Clemson brings back only two starters from a 2011 group which was mercurial and struggled with grit– senior center Dalton Freeman and junior left tackle Brandon Thomas.

Caldwell wants the group to be, in his words, “nasty.”

“ It doesn’t mean breaking the rules, we never talk about that,” he said. “But it means blocking your man to the whistle blows. Takes great effort, great attitude, something we’re always learning. The term I’ve used for years and years is ‘Get your man.’ You get your man, everyone gets their man, we’re going to be in great shape.”

Athletically, Caldwell says this group “could be better than the group last year, and we will be better – that’s not a slight, that’s a fact.”

He points to freshman tackles Joe Gore and Isaiah Battle as key reasons why, nothing their impressive abilities on the basketball court. The key is turning that athleticism into toughness.

“They can do some things,” he said. “That doesn’t make you a football player, particularly on the offensive line, because there’s mouth-to-mouth contact, all the time. And I can make you run, I can make you lift weights, but I can’t make you enjoy contact. That’s what we’ve got to do.”

Molding that culture is especially key this season, considering the overall youth of Clemson’s offensive line. Freeman is the only senior, and Thomas and converted defensive tackle Tyler Shatley are the only juniors.

“It’s important, doing some of those things this year because they’re all green,” Caldwell said. “You have all seniors, you worry about contact, err towards caution, not getting them hurt, as opposed to roughing them up. I’ve been down that road, short numbers. I’ve only had a few good players sometimes, and if you don’t have contact, you don’t get them ready to play. There’s the old saying, ‘Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.’

“The first goal is developing toughness. Each year, no matter if you’ve been there or not, you’ve got to start over and you’ve got to help that new guy beside you. So we the need older ones to set an example.”

Shatley gave a natural toughness infusion when he moved across the line of scrimmage; Caldwell joked that it took “about 24 hours” for him to decide to keep him permanently. “In all my 30 years as a line coach,” Caldwell said, “I’ve never had someone fit so perfectly right off the bat.”

“Toughness is a thing Tyler Shatley brought over naturally,” he said. “He’s been playing on the defensive line, he’s used to contact, he’s used to taking on the double team. Now by George, he wants to give them some of it. He made everyone tougher, even our experienced guys, right off the bat.

It’s a mindset for him.”

He was an immediate fit, Caldwell said.

“He was a little bit worried about it when he first came over but it didn’t take him long to put him at ease,” Caldwell said of Shatley. “He’s a very sharp young man. Academics and football don’t always go hand in hand but in his case it did, he’s studying to be an engineer, he understands leverage, angles, concepts. It made sense for him. He made less mistakes in a first-time player learning the system than I’ve ever had in 30-some years. That tells you how hungry he was, how important it was for him to catch it. He wants to earn his way.”

That’s exactly what this offensive line will have to do. Caldwell jokes that the line is a football team’s “whipping boy,” but he thinks this group can hand out some whippings of its own.

“I’m excited about the group,” he said. “I’ve always been an underdog. I like that, scratching and clawing, working my way back to the top.”

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Comments » 6

savagetiger writes:

I hate to be Debbie Downer, but this seems very similer to 2008. We come off a good season in 2007. We have C.J Spiller, Jacoby Ford, Cullin Harper, DaQuan Bowers, Arron Kelly, Micheal Hamlin, Chris Clemons, Ricky Sapp and James Davis. We were stacked!! Everybody was saying Clemson is the team to watch. Everyone forgot about our young O-Line. And what happened??? We went into the G-Dome and lost to Alabama 31-10. Its kinda ironic everyone is hyping us up just like 2008, and were playing a team from Alabama in the G-Dome just like 2008. I hope im just paranoid.

Terri (Inactive) writes:

That was devastating indeed, savagetiger. Alabama's line play was the difference. Boy, I'll never forget how it looked like men and boys.
Let's hope these guys step up and fight.

lhaselden writes:

'll forgit that that Alabama line D and O only lost 1 game that year and did not lose any games the next year...that was a d,,, good Oline and DLine and LBs and Dbacks oh did I mention a heisman winning running back and back up that was in the mix for heisman... 4 years later that team has won 2 national titles.......2 SEC titles.....

TCB1977 (Inactive) writes:

Why compare apples to oranges, sure we got our butts handed to us by a team that was stacked with talent in '08. Guy's that was '08, this is a new coaching staff, new crop of players, different mind set at that. This group of talented players wants to win "BAD". Plus the coach's attitudes are more geared to winning and producing, unlike that former coach whose name will not be mentioned, failed to recruit the hole package in terms of personnel and talent. Get excited this is going to be another good year for Clemson football, forget '08, it's 2012 baby time to repeat as champs of the ACC, and win the Orange Bowl!! GO TIGERS!!!

TrevorT writes:

I understand why the 08' comparison is stuck in your head Savage. I'm anxious myself to see if our Tigers can live up to high preseaon expectations for the first time in 20 years. If Dabo has truly brought something different to the table than the coach TCB doesn't want to mention, this season is his chance to prove it. I will say one thing that makes me more optimistic this year than I was in 08'. Our offensive scheme back then was far more dependent on strong line play. It was basically a pro-style attack. Our offensive gameplan these days is all about speed and precise execution. A dominant line would certainly help us (it always does), but I think last year's success demonstated that it's not an absolute necessity in our offense. That said, I don't expect a repeat of 08'. I can't wait for kickoff! GO TIGERS!

lhaselden writes:

I seem to remember that some of the OL on our '08 Tigers never played much after that?
Seniors: B. Hutchinson J. Grant*
Juniors: B. Humphries* C. Lambert* T. Austin*
Soph C. Hairston* J. Medlin* B. Ramsey

To be honest Austin and Hairston are the only ones i remember well. Lambert was a 4 star bust I think....

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