CLEMSON — If you think Clemson’s projected starting offensive line is inexperienced, look at the backups.
When the Tigers begin preseason practice Friday, the projected starters at tackle – junior Brandon Thomas and sophomore Gifford Timothy – will have one combined career start at the position (Thomas last fall vs. N.C. State).
“Those are three of our young freshmen who are going to have to factor in somewhere,” Swinney said recently. “We’re going to challenge them big-time in camp.”
Swinney says Gore – a converted defensive tackle who redshirted last season following a knee injury – is “way ahead of Battle, as he should be.”
“He’s been here. He’s redshirted a whole year,” Swinney said. “He’s just further along as a football player. He’s worked more at it.”
Battle – a Brooklyn native who originally attended Blue Ridge (Va.) School to play basketball – spent a year at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy before arriving at Clemson in January. He stands 6-foot-7, 265 pounds, and coaches have marveled at his overall athleticism.
“ Battle is a great prospect. He’s raw,” Swinney said. “It was invaluable having him here this spring, because he got a chance to figure some things out and realize how far he’s got to go. This summer has been huge for him, getting in the weight room. He looks great. He is going to be a giant one of these days.”
The more Battle works, Swinney figures, the better he’ll get.
“He’s very tough, not a passive guy at all,” Swinney said. “It’s just a matter of him gaining some experience and learning the position. It’s not something he’s done a lot of.”
Clemson coaches know the best way to bring them along would be slowly, which makes Thomas and Timothy’s development especially important.
“Hopefully Brandon Thomas will stay healthy and Giff Timothy will continue to impress like he has,” Swinney said, “and we’ll continue to solidify that group.”
Swinney is very happy with the offensive line as a whole, calling it “the area I was most pleased with” in the spring.
“I think we came out of the spring with seven, eight, nine guys that we feel like with summer, with camp, can line up and play,” he said. “There’s a couple other guys who have a chance to be there. I’m anxious to get in camp and find out pretty quick, who’s worked, who’s ready. I like what we have, the makeup of it.”
Returning Rimington Award finalist Dalton Freeman and Thomas can provide leadership, while the overall youth breeds competition, Swinney said.
“I think the leadership, between Freeman and (Tyler) Shatley and what I’ve seen from Brandon Thomas, that is incredibly encouraging, because you have so many guys that have an opportunity to play, it’s really created a sense of urgency and a really competitive situation,” he said. “I think that makes everyone better. I think we’re going to be OK up front in the offensive line.”