Brandon Thomas fitting in well as Clemson's left tackle

Clemson left tackle Brandon Thomas blocks Virginia Tech defensive end Corey Marshall.

Clemson left tackle Brandon Thomas blocks Virginia Tech defensive end Corey Marshall.

Tyler Shatley on OL's game against Duke


— This summer, one of the biggest questions surrounding Clemson’s offensive line – and the Tigers’ offense at large – revolved around junior Brandon Thomas.

Could he protect Tajh Boyd’s blind side despite a career spent mostly at left guard, with his time at tackle marked by inconsistency?

Nine games in, the answer is yes. Thomas had the best game of his career at Duke, helping pave the way for 718 yards of total offense – second-best in program history – in a 56-20 win. Thomas graded out at 95 percent, the best for any Clemson offensive lineman this season.

He said it was a response to challenges from coaches like offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell and offensive coordinator Chad Morris.

“I felt like my technique was a whole lot better,” Thomas said. “A couple weeks ago, (coaches) challenged me to work on my footwork and my hand placement, and I feel like I worked at practice with all that stuff. I came actually ready to play. I had the right mindset along with my teammates, that we were going to come to win.”

Thomas hasn’t faced a challenge at left tackle this season, and Morris has lamented overall tackle depth. Thomas says he feels the Tigers’ line is eight-deep.

Coaches are high on true freshman Isaiah Battle, but he has played sparingly; after playing a combined 59 snaps against Ball State and Furman, he didn’t play for four games before getting two snaps against Wake Forest and 19 against Duke.

Thomas’ 652 snaps lead Clemson’s roster.

“I feel pretty comfortable,” he said. “I feel like it’ll help me in the long run.”

Still, he’s open to moving back to left guard, if it betters the line as a whole.

“If they want me to play guard again, I’ll play guard again,” he said. “We just have to get Battle coming along and he can play left tackle.”

Record chase: With even a below-average game, junior wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins could become Clemson’s all-time receiving yardage leader against Maryland. Hopkins has 2,652 yards, 81 behind yardage leader Aaron Kelly, who racked up 2,733 from 2005-08. Hopkins currently ranks third behind Kelly and his late uncle Terry Smith, who had 2,681 from 1990-93. He averages 115.2 receiving yards per game this season, setting Clemson single-season and career records for touchdown receptions.

Chick-fil-A visiting Clemson-Maryland: The Chick-fil-A Bowl will scout Clemson for the second consecutive week Saturday when Maryland visits Memorial Stadium. The Terrapins are 4-5 and must win two of their final three games to make a bowl. CFA Bowl scouts also watched the Tigers last week at Duke; the bowl owns the ACC’s No.2 bowl tie-in, behind the Orange Bowl.

Davis working for more: Sophomore guard Kalon Davis got 129 snaps in a three-game September stretch, including his first career start against Furman. However, a hamstring injury sidelined him for two games, and his playing time has been slow to recover. His 23 snaps against Duke were the most since late September.

Davis says playing time is earned, not given.

“I feel like everything comes down to practice time,” he said. “You have the opportunity in the game to show the coaches you can play, but ultimately everyone’s trying to make a move at practice. You have to show what you can do anytime you go live, anytime we go against the defense. You have to prove you deserve those reps in the game.”

Recently, Davis has worked on footwork, hand placement and fundamentals, “basic stuff,” he said.

“It’s stuff I was really strict on in spring,” he said. “I just got lost in the transition.”

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