CLEMSON — A dependable left tackle is one of the most important pieces of a successful football team – something Clemson found out the hard way last fall.
Former walk-on Phillip Price assumed the starting role in his senior year, and protected first-year starting quarterback Tajh Boyd with hard-nosed toughness.
But after Price suffered a sprained knee in the Atlantic Division-clinching win over Wake Forest, he was never fully healthy, and the offensive line as a whole suffered as a result.
With Price out, sophomore left guard Brandon Thomas was forced to move to left tackle, where he played significant portions of the season’s final four games.
He struggled at times, as did the rest of the reshuffled line, leaving Boyd antsy in the pocket.
This spring, however, Thomas took a major step forward. As one of only two returning starters on the offensive line, he earned the trust of coach Dabo Swinney, offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell and offensive coordinator Chad Morris.
He’ll play a crucial role this fall in protecting Boyd’s blind side, and is the No.10 player in our ongoing countdown of Clemson’s 20 most valuable players.
Thomas arrived at Clemson in 2009 with major potential. He was rated as the nation’s No.14 offensive tackle prospect by Rivals.com and Scout.com and the nation’s No.66 guard prospect by ESPN.com. Rivals.com rated him as South Carolina’s No.8 prospect.
He played sparingly as a redshirt freshman, rolling up 136 snaps over 10 games, mostly at left guard.
Last fall, Thomas saw far more significant action, starting 10 of 13 games and playing 777 snaps with 39 knockdown blocks, third best on the roster. He started nine of those 10 games at left guard, starting at left tackle against N.C. State with Price sidelined.
However, he played virtually all of the South Carolina game there after Price left following the first series, and relieved him at left tackle in both the ACC title game against Virginia Tech and the Orange Bowl against West Virginia.
This spring, he showed solid footwork and quickness in locking down the starting left tackle position as one of Clemson’s five best linemen. If needed, Thomas could also move back to his old left guard spot, where sophomore Kalon Davis will begin the season as the starter.
However, coaches and Boyd appear comfortable with Thomas as the top left tackle.
Along with senior center Dalton Freeman, he’ll lead an offensive line full of guys still finding their way.
And that makes him one of Clemson’s most valuable assets for this fall.