SENECA — Unless you’ve been hiding in an undisclosed location, you know by now that Clemson’s offensive line will be young and untested this fall. Only two starters – senior center Dalton Freeman and junior left tackle Brandon Thomas – return.
The real key to the line’s success or failure in 2012 will be its youth. A host of freshmen and sophomores, including four true freshmen who went through spring as early enrollees, form a core which must improve quickly for the line to show the consistency offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell craves.
Behind them, a host of young players will fight for playing time and build depth.
“We’ll know quickly when we get on the field (about our top eight linemen),” Caldwell said recently.
Redshirt freshman Ryan Norton is backing up Freeman at center, while sophomore David Beasley is working behind Davis at left guard and sophomore Reid Webster (who received praise from Freeman this week) is backing up Shatley on the right side.
Meanwhile, center Jay Guillermo, tackle Oliver Jones and guard Patrick DeStefano are all hoping to avoid redshirts after going through spring as true freshmen.
“It was something to have four newcomers in there (as freshmen in the spring),” Caldwell said. “They adjusted well and it was really a treat. They’ve been very good. Now you wish everyone could do that. It’s been fun, but they’re still freshmen.”
He is uncertain if the true freshmen could play, but points to 2011 as a chance all of them could.
“With what we’ve been through over the years, with injuries, you never know,” he said’ “Last year they stayed healthy and you’ve got all seniors. Then you get David Smith and Mason (Cloy). One loses one shoulder, one the other. (Phillip) Price he’s never been hurt, and boom he’s done (with a sprained knee). He kpt trying to go, but you’re down to nubs.
“So I don’t count any (freshmen) out. I tell them all to prepare to play, and if we’re able to redshirt them, boy that’d be great. That’s what we’d like to do and they know.”
Caldwell joked that Guillermo, 17, is so young that “he can’t even go into place his teammates go into – he just has to stand outside because he’s not old enough.” But he made a clear impact, along with Jones, who missed his junior year of football due to injury.
One of the most important spots on the line will be held by Timothy, who wasn’t impressive in limited action last fall.
Caldwell is confident he can hold down the right tackle slot this fall and for years to come.
“I think he has the ability and we know that,” he said. “We see spurts of it, but consistency as we talked about early. I’m really excited about Gifford. He’s a student of the game, will know what to do. Better not tell him wrong, because he’s going to do just what you teach him to do. And he’s never done a lot of pass-blocking. That’s unusual this day and time.
“Years ago, everyone was run-blocking and you had to teach pass blocking. Now it’s the other way around. We’re at the point where an element of toughness has to come back, and you have to put a point of emphasis on him. You spread the field,spring around, what are you going to do when you get short yardage or goal line? That’s when you have to get tough.”