Clemson's o-line: Numbers, star ratings and the competition

Clemson football - Offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell

Photo by Mark Crammer

Clemson football - Offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell

Every so often our comment section finds a topic for us to look a little deeper into.

The issue at hand: Offensive line recruiting – is Clemson getting the numbers and/or the talent?

Here's the current makeup going into 2014 (using Scout rankings)...

Clemson o-line makeup

Rising Seniors (4): Tackle/Guard - Kalon Davis (3-star guard), David Beasley (3-star guard), Reid Webster (3-star OL), Gifford Timothy (2-star tackle).

Rising Juniors (7): Center - Ryan Norton (3-star); Tackle/Guard - Isaiah Battle (4-star tackle), Eric Mac Lain (4-star TE in HS, tackle/guard now), Shaq Anthony (3-star tackle), Joe Gore (3-star tackle), Spencer Region (3-star guard), Jerome Maybank (3-star tackle).

Rising Sophomores (2): Center - Jay Guillermo (3-star); Tackle/Guard - Oliver Jones (3-star tackle).

Redshirt Freshmen (2): Tackle/Guard - Tyrone Crowder (4-star, top-100 overall OL, 6-2 325), Maverick Morris (3-star tackle, 6-4 285).

2014 Commits (2): Tackle/Guard - Justin Falcinelli (3-star tackle, 6-5 300), Taylor Hearn (3-star tackle, 6-5 305).

2015 Commits/Top Offers: Tackle/Guard - Noah Green (Commit, 3-star, 6-5 275), Mitch Hyatt (Offer, 5-star OT, 6-5 271), Zack Bailey (Offer, 4-star OT, 6-5 307).

Outgoing Seniors/injured (3): OT Brandon Thomas (4-star, top-15 tackle), OG Tyler Shatley (3-star FB), OG Patrick DeStefano (top-20 rated, 3-star guard, won't finish out final three years of eligibility).

Breaking It Down

* Last year, Clemson had to replace one senior ( Dalton Freeman), and did so with a top-100 recruit in Tyrone Crowder and 3-star Maverick Morris. This year, it appears they lose two (Brandon Thomas and Tyler Shatley) and gain two (Justin Falcinelli and Taylor Hearn).

Why such low turnover? Well for one, Clemson's moved a pair of d-lineman and a tight end to the o-line (Shatley, Jerome Maybank and Eric Mac Lain), and that's contributed to a giant sophomore-moving-into-junior class for '13. There's a decent chance that group makes up three of the five starting spots next year.

* So if the current numbers hold, the Tigers will have 17 scholarship o-linemen. Normal? Pretty much.

Auburn will carry anywhere from 14-to-15 or so into 2014, as they had a group without a senior this season.

Alabama currently has six o-line commits to bring their '14 number to 18.

* But here, starting those comparisons lends to the star ratings, and Clemson's lack thereof with the upper rung they're trying to hang with.

In the last four classes, Auburn has had nine commits with four-star ratings or higher (2.25 per year; three top-15 rated OLs)

In the same timespan, Alabama has had seven and are bringing in at least four more in the next class (top-11 rated every season but 2010/2013).

Divisional rival Florida State? They've used the JuCo ranks more (something Clemson hasn't) in gaining five 4-plus stars and at least two more coming next season.

Instate rival South Carolina? They've had a top-15 rated o-line each of the last four years with four 4-plus stars.

I say all that to point to Clemson's meager numbers, with just one top-15 o-line (2012) and two four-stars (Crowder and Battle). In the dandy dozen '09 class, outgoing senior Brandon Thomas was a four-star as well.

In terms of playing experience, they will have plenty of snaps coming back despite losing two starters - and a lot of competition.

* Projecting out from here is tough, but the Tigers seem to be in on some top recruits in what will be a key class for rebuilding the o-line (2015). Currently, they are pegged by 247Sports' "Crystal Ball" to nab both five-star tackle Mitch Hyatt (North Gwinnett) and four-star tackle Zack Bailey (Summerville). Already committed is 3-star Noah Green (Boiling Springs). The 2014 group looks pretty settled in and there aren't many spots to fill to begin with.

* The issue with o-line and ratings is it's not the easiest evaluation area. Of the "Scout 300" players from 2012-14, only 14 percent are offensive linemen.

Of that upper-crust, SEC teams have landed 37 of them to the ACC's nine. Clemson had some bad luck in that area, too, as they would've made it 10 with 2012 commit Javarius Leamon (academics, went to S.C. State).

Is that an excuse? Sure, and I'm sure Dabo Swinney and co. would love to have had more than just one in that span. He's also said he likes the competitive depth they have, which will continue into next season. For now, if Clemson is going to mold into a more run-geared attack next season – that improvement will have to come from within.

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Comments » 20

TigerMarine writes:

Thank you Brandon this is exactly what I was getting at (though you did the research to prove it) and I do understand that O-Line is difficult to evaluate but I'll take a stable of 4 stars over a herd of 3's any day. Imagine how fast an O-Lineman would commit if we swooned him like we do all the receivers and QBs.

tigerrob44 writes:

2 and 3 star recruits on the offensive line won't get the job done if we plan on running the ball or giving our quarterback time to throw. That's sad and pitiful recruiting in that part of our team. We can do better but they (coaches) have to try get some better players. Thank God for Sammy but we need some good players that nobody on TV talk about.

waran writes:

Just imagine if Sammy had played for Alabama or in any team with a good O-line? We are doing a big disservice to the excellent WR and QBs we recruit if we cant have a good O-line. What is needed is a more balanced focus on recruiting. If we reduce the focus on "flashy football" and refocus on running the football with a good O-line we will then get back to the real "Clemson Football" that we have all seen in the past. We can do it.

33dtb writes:

...and I quote, ...... .."Alabama currently has six o-line commits to bring their '14 number to 18."...

seems like our two is same as last year....

13tiger5 writes:

and I quote "the Tigers will have 17 scholarship o-lineman" Numbers are not the problem.

Doing the math, there have only been ~125 o-linemen total in the top 300s of the last 3 recruiting cycles. We got one in Crowder and built depth with 3 stars. The line is a tough position to evaluate in HS because D1 line prospects are so much bigger than everyone else on the field. I trust our coaches to evaluate them much more that I trust the analysts. We were not able to target the best of the best until we started winning 3 years ago with Dabo, Morris, and now Coach V. We gotta develop these guys and maybe Caldwell is the problem.

For some perspective, we are one of the 5-10 most successful teams in the country over the last 3 years. We are upgrading talent on D and now can focus on the O-line the next couple years. Let's see what they can do.

TigerFan95 writes:

Seems like its not a numbers problem but a quality problem. We need to get a quality O-line coach that has developed big-time talent... Robbie Caldwell is a very likeable guy and all but his resume seems a bit weak to me---His stops include Furman, Vandy, NC St and UNC...Not exactly top level programs.

kellytown writes:

Why doesn't Clemson look at JUCO players. It seems to me that they are several highly ranked teams that take Jr college players.

Bigboots writes:

If Clemson continues to bring in less than 4-star O-lineman, overall improvement is unlikely. There has to be increased emphasis on identifying top prospects earlier in their high school careers and developing a relationship with the Clemson program, which seems to be the case with QBs, WRs, and other "skill players".
We'd better realize that blocking is a skill, too.
If we treat O-lineman as an afterthought, we will only be able to bring in the leftovers.

TrevorT writes:

Thanks for this well written article that really puts the facts on the table. Clemson can be a good team with the level of O-linemen we are bringing in right now, but I doubt that we can be a great team. I do hope our recent success on offense will make us more attractive to top level O-line recruits and that our coaching staff will work their butts off to get them to Clemson.

essoclub writes:

@Brandon Rink - Thanks for the great in-depth analysis of Clemson's O-line. I am curious to find out if you have any insight into (1) Who @ Clemson is responsible for O-line recruiting, (2) When changes might be made to staff, as the current process is clearly not working and (3) if the A.D. is going to get involved at some point and give Dabo/Morris a unilateral directive to focus on the O-line.

Lastly, is there any talk within the program to bring in a top O-line recruiter from the SEC?

kellytown writes:

I agree with what has been said by all. Maybe we should look at a top recruiter from the sec.We pay big money to Chad and to Brent why not to a big time O-line recruiter?

Xander5000 writes:

Imagine how much more Boyd could have accomplihsed with a better O-line. Imagine Hot Rod, Z.Brooks, and the rest of the tailback gang thats coming in, ....the holes they could run through and gashing of the defenses for 4 quarters.

KerryCapps writes:

in response to essoclub:

@Brandon Rink - Thanks for the great in-depth analysis of Clemson's O-line. I am curious to find out if you have any insight into (1) Who @ Clemson is responsible for O-line recruiting, (2) When changes might be made to staff, as the current process is clearly not working and (3) if the A.D. is going to get involved at some point and give Dabo/Morris a unilateral directive to focus on the O-line.

Lastly, is there any talk within the program to bring in a top O-line recruiter from the SEC?

I'll toss out a couple of things, for the sake of discussion. Clemson's recruiting plan is a joint effort among the coaches responsible for specific geographical areas and the individual position coaches, with all of that coordinated by Jeff Scott and the program's newest administrator, Thad Turnipseed. By the time a prospect has been identified for a possible offer, the position coach is almost certainly involved in evaluation. Dabo Swinney and Scott have both said at various times that when the staff gets together for a recruiting meeting, they want to see the position coach 'standing on the table' as an advocate for taking the prospect. In a recent case, OL Robbie Caldwell did just that in the case of unheralded Maverick Morris, who the Tigers had in camp.

As far as staff personnel decisions, those have generally come after the bowl game following a period of self and program-critique by Swinney, i.e. making the call on new offensive and defensive coordinators.

I would consider it unlikely that the AD would ever come to the head coach and mandate a particular coaching change. Make suggestions and express concerns, yes, but demand, probably not.

Brandon's research shows a lot of what I found a year ago, when before the bowl game against LSU I looked at the recruiting of the two programs on both the offensive and defensive lines - that LSU had consistently, over a period of several recruiting cycles, signed higher-rated OL and DL prospects than had Clemson.

Xander5000 writes:

Thats why I think our AD and Clemson president should always be a Clemson guy/female or have a strong connection to Clemson somehow. This way that person will automatically know whats REALLY EXPECTED from Clemson Football as well as other athletics.

NashvilleTigerFan writes:

Kerry or Brandon, it seems like the coaching staff has some stability going on right now, but do you anticipate any coaching changes this offseason?

KerryCapps writes:

in response to NashvilleTigerFan:

Kerry or Brandon, it seems like the coaching staff has some stability going on right now, but do you anticipate any coaching changes this offseason?

Personally, I wouldn't expect any, unless, of course, someone was to take a job elsewhere. My sense of it is that Dabo's pleased with the coaches he has, Robbie Caldwell included.

lhaselden writes:

I think Caldwell is one of the best OL coaches in the nation, I remember the OLs he had at Vandy and how they pushed USC and others around... and blocked good enough for the QB to go to the NFL! Is Cutler still starting for the Bears?

lhaselden writes:

Star ratings are important... but guys like Guelermo were 3* but he was the 5th rated center in his recruiting class.. I think consistently getting top 20 or 30 ratied OL at their position will build the type of OL we need regardless of stars. Position ratings are as important as stars maybe more on the OL.
We have recruited 5 and 4 stars... but you need numbers even when you miss on those guys. The recruiting analysts do not see what our coaches see in the summer camps when these guys come in and work with our coaches.
Gore came is as a DT/DE, Shatley as a FB, McClain as a TE. I think Cannon Smith may wind up on the OL instead of TE as well.

TigerFan95 writes:

in response to KerryCapps:

Personally, I wouldn't expect any, unless, of course, someone was to take a job elsewhere. My sense of it is that Dabo's pleased with the coaches he has, Robbie Caldwell included.

So in other words expect to see the same thing next year that we've seen for over a decade now...A team loaded with skill players but with a soft O-line...Geez

essoclub writes:

in response to KerryCapps:

I'll toss out a couple of things, for the sake of discussion. Clemson's recruiting plan is a joint effort among the coaches responsible for specific geographical areas and the individual position coaches, with all of that coordinated by Jeff Scott and the program's newest administrator, Thad Turnipseed. By the time a prospect has been identified for a possible offer, the position coach is almost certainly involved in evaluation. Dabo Swinney and Scott have both said at various times that when the staff gets together for a recruiting meeting, they want to see the position coach 'standing on the table' as an advocate for taking the prospect. In a recent case, OL Robbie Caldwell did just that in the case of unheralded Maverick Morris, who the Tigers had in camp.

As far as staff personnel decisions, those have generally come after the bowl game following a period of self and program-critique by Swinney, i.e. making the call on new offensive and defensive coordinators.

I would consider it unlikely that the AD would ever come to the head coach and mandate a particular coaching change. Make suggestions and express concerns, yes, but demand, probably not.

Brandon's research shows a lot of what I found a year ago, when before the bowl game against LSU I looked at the recruiting of the two programs on both the offensive and defensive lines - that LSU had consistently, over a period of several recruiting cycles, signed higher-rated OL and DL prospects than had Clemson.

This is very helpful and insightful information.

Recruiting - If I understand your post correctly, other than securing Dabo's sign-off, J. Scott is the ultimate decision maker, re: recruiting O-line talent. Since Clemson's mediocre offensive lines, consistently lacking NFL-caliber talent, have persisted for nearly a decade, maybe it is time to revisit the process & the strategy, re: prospecting & acquiring top-tier O-line talent. A decade is a long time…to fix a glaring deficiency of the team.

Talent Development - It would be interesting to compare Clemson's O-line recruits to those @ other ACC schools, including how many O-linemen from the ACC are in the NFL. Are other top-25 schools better at developing 2-star & 3-star recruits into NFL caliber O-linemen? Does anyone on this board know how many Clemson O-linemen, within the last ten years, are currently and/or have been starters in the NFL? When is the last time a Clemson O-lineman was drafted in the first 2 rounds of the draft?

Athletic Director - While not taking into account internal politics within the Clemson Athletic Dept., I view the A.D. as the COO of the entire dept., reporting into the President @ Clemson. While the A.D. is responsible for hiring / firing head coaches, should his responsibilities not extend further if a glaring deficiency, which has now been noted in a number of publications, is still not being addressed year after year? I would argue that the A.D. should be expected to step in when a major facet of one of his athletic teams is not performing.

Solution - The A.D. should hire a third party, w/ no affiliation to the Clemson Football Program, to conduct an in-depth analysis of how other top-25 programs prospect, analyze & recruit O-line talent. Part of the analysis should include a deep focus on how teams like B.C., Wake, UVA, Michigan, Iowa, Purdue, Stanford, Oregon, Notre Dame, etc. are able to take 2-star & 3-star O-linemen & turn them into pro caliber, NFL-ready players. The analysis could point to the need to bring in a top-tier O-line recruiter. The results of the analysis could also potentially show that talent is not being developed at the same level as other top-25 teams.

It’s worth noting that of Clemson’s 22 players, who are currently in the NFL, only one plays on the O-line.

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