CLEMSON – Are there answers yet on the Tigers’ o-line?
Yes and no – at some spots it’s still more like a multiple choice question.
“We’re still battling. We’ve got a bunch of guys,” Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said. “We’ve got 12 or 13 guys that are competing pretty good. We’ll it settle out the next couple days in terms of (Georgia) anyway.”
The way that process is going, it’s not looking all that different from where they left off: the four returning starters plus a new center.
The Tigers’ offensive line is dubbed “The Union” – a tight-knit group despite the ample competition.
“That word unity comes from that,” said Swinney. “You want that group to be a unified group that has each other’s back. They’ve grown very close a group and have done a lot of things together. They kind of move like a herd of cattle together everywhere they go.
“That’s encouraging, especially when you’ve only got two seniors in the group. You’ve got a lot of guys that are going to be around here for a few more years.”
Alexander back, o-line competitive
Left tackle, at times, has had some intrigue ranging from the Chick-fil-A Bowl win to this week, but now it appears wrapped up for week one.
After playing well in spot-duty against LSU to close last season, talk of athletic sophomore Isaiah Battle taking over the job dominated the offseason. After inconsistent results in practice, however, Swinney called it a “pipe dream” and something “drastic” would have to happen to move All-ACC tackle Brandon Thomas elsewhere on the line.
Next spot over, the Tigers head coach says junior left guard David Beasley, who played close to 800 snaps last season, has had one of the best camps of anybody.
Out of spring ball, he was listed with an “or” on the depth chart alongside junior Kalon Davis – and after the summer, redshirt sophomore Eric Mac Lain joined the competition in addition to work at right tackle.
“The amount of players – utility players – where we can plug in left or right or center,” Mac Lain said, “it’s exciting to have this much competition because we’re all getting better. When you don’t have a comfortable starting spot, you can get in there and play your heart out every time.”
Holding versatility and experience, the Tigers are feeling pretty good upfront.
“We’ve got a lot of confidence this year,” Thomas said. “Especially having (four starters) back, we know what we’re doing because we played all last year, and with Norton coming in at center, he played a lot last year. We’ve got a lot of confidence in our core group and our second and third teams.”
A Simpsonville native, Norton has been battling for Dalton Freeman’s old position with redshirt freshman Jay Guillermo, who was rated as high as the No. 1 center out of high school, but the sophomore’s place with the first team is looking more secure.
To his right, there isn’t a more secure spot on the unit, in guard Tyler Shatley.
“He’s kind of that Superman,” Mac Lain said. “He’s that guy that we know that he’s going to give his best and we know we can expect from him that there won’t be any questions.”
Shatley and fellow senior Thomas took the initiative to stay on the group in the break in practice.
“Shatley and Brandon have pushed us really hard this summer knowing that it will be a competition,” said Mac Lain. “Knowing that no spot is definite, it’s just been incredible the amount of competition we can get from that.”
Rounding out the projected starting o-line is right tackle Gifford Timothy, who topped 800 snaps last season. Swinney says he’s “not displeased” with the junior, but he could stand to use more “fire under him”
However the offensive line settles on Aug. 31, Swinney doesn’t want them to get too comfy.
“I hope the guys won’t get complacent,” he said. “‘I’m happy to be the backup’ – I hope guys compete all year long, because that’s just going to make us better. We do have some options. We do have some flexibility. We just have to continue to grow.”