CLEMSON — Clemson’s offensive line entered 2012 as a question mark, and with good reason: only two starters – senior center Dalton Freeman and junior left tackle Brandon Thomas – had previously started games.
One-third of the way through the season, the line has answered those questions, at least when it has been healthy enough to play together.
Entering Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. game at Boston College, Clemson is third in the ACC in rushing offense, averaging 198.5 yards per game, and third in total offense, with 494.5 yards per game. The line has allowed only six sacks through four games, including two by Florida State’s tough defensive line.
“Our offensive line is growing immensely right before our eyes,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said, adding that his confidence in the line is reflected in the 2013 signing class - which has only one offensive line commitment in tackle Maverick Morris.
Saturday will mark only the third time in five games that the original starting five – Thomas, sophomore left guard David Beasley, Freeman, junior right guard Tyler Shatley and sophomore right tackle Gifford Timothy – has played together.
Beasley suffered a sprained knee ligament against Ball State and missed the Furman game, while Timothy missed Ball State and was limited against Furman after aggravating scar tissue from an August meniscus surgery. Shatley left the Furman game with a sprained ankle but played through at Florida State.
At Florida State, Thomas, Freeman and Timothy played all 79 offensive snaps, while Shatley played 76 and Beasley played 57. Reserve Kalon Davis played 25 snaps between both guard spots; Freeman said Beasley was “nicked up.”
I feel like we’re playing really well,” Freeman said. “I think we’re playing better than most people thought we would. I knew we would have a chance to be better than we were last year, but until we go out there and do it there’s a lot of questions that remain unanswered. Right now I think it’s a matter of getting the younger guys experience and more poise.”
Freeman says the line is not where it needs to be, and is still trying to build continuity.
“In some areas I think we’ve gone backwards, on our combo blocks and things like that,” he said. “It’s just a matter of working with the same guy over and over. Everyone’s going to have a different fit. It’s a matter of getting everyone healthy and getting that experience under our belt.”
Health is still an issue. Shatley said his ankle held up well at FSU, although he did have a minor setback when he slipped on the turf. Timothy is only now returning to full health after injuring his knee on the next-to-last snap against Auburn.
“It’s feeling really good, and I’m working with strength on it, making sure I can move, but it’s feeling really good,” he said. “It swelled up really bad after the (Auburn) game and I needed time to let it fully heal. I’m getting back to moving and game speed.”
In Doak Campbell Stadium’s raucous, sold-out environment Saturday, the Tigers had no false starts and very few missed assignments.
“We were as good in communication and being on the same page as I’ve been a part of,” Freeman said. “For that environment, that was something to be proud of.”
Rodriguez nominated for Courage Award: Clemson sophomore receiver Daniel Rodriguez has been nominated for the 2012 Orange Bowl-FWAA Courage Award, which is given by the Football Writers Association of America to the college football player who best displays courage on or off the field, overcoming a hardship, disaster, injury or physical handicap. Rodriguez, a Stafford, Va., native, earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star after being wounded in 2009 during a battle near Kamdesh, Afghanistan, while serving in the U.S. Army.
Eight members of Rodriguez’s unit were killed and 22 wounded in a Taliban ambush. Rodriguez was shot and wounded in the leg, neck and shoulder.
The Courage Award will be announced in December, and the winner will receive his trophy during the week of the BCS national title game in Miami. Clemson’s Ray Ray McElrathbey won the award in 2006.