No new starters, but Tigers' backup offensive line caught their coaches' eye

'I wanted them to play with Tajh. I wanted them to take ownership. I think they did...I thought that whole second group sparked us'

Football - Isaiah Battle and Robby Caldwell

Photo by Mark Crammer

Football - Isaiah Battle and Robby Caldwell

Clemson defensive line coach Dan Brooks pays his unit's depth the ultimate compliment when he says, "it doesn't matter who we run out there first."

Robbie Caldwell's offensive line group isn't there yet; but after the Tigers' performance on Saturday against South Carolina State, they're getting closer.

Clemson played a total of 15 offensive linemen against the Bulldogs, and that doesn't include starting right guard Tyler Shatley, who sat out the game with a minor foot injury.

Eleven played in regular rotation, as Kalon Davis stepped in for Shatley and played alongside Ryan Norton, Brandon Thomas, Gifford Timothy and David Beasley on the starting five. The second five - Isaiah Battle, Patrick DeStefano, Jay Guillermo, Reid Webster and Shaq Anthony - came on for the game's third series and paved the way for two first-half touchdown drives.

Eric Mac Lain worked with both groups at both left guard and right tackle.

Dabo Swinney said Monday that he was especially impressed by the Tigers' second group; and while he's not ready to name any new starters heading into the N.C. State game, the second line's performance has altered the Tigers' depth dynamics.

"I'm not ready to name anyone new to a starting job, but I think the gap is a lot closer than people may think," Swinney said.

Offensive coordinator Chad Morris agreed.

"Did I feel like someone competed enough to earn a starting job? No, not yet," said Morris. "Does it warrant a guy playing more in the course of the game or being motivated enough to perform better in a practice role and push for a starting role? Absolutely.

"That’s what you hope you see out of it."

Swinney said the coaches went into the game with a plan to sub out the entire offensive line for the third offensive series, regardless of the score or circumstances.

"I wanted them to play with Tajh (Boyd)," Swinney said. "I wanted them to take ownership. I think they did that...I thought that whole second group sparked us."

The Tigers led just 3-0 when the second line entered the game, but then zipped 57 yards in seven plays for a touchdown. Later, with Clemson leading 24-7 after a pair of interception returns for scores, the second line came in for an 88-yard, 15-play drive for a touchdown.

"Isaiah Battle really tried to play physical," Swinney said. "He's a still-developing guy, but he brings a real physical presence and I like that.

"Jay Guillermo got his first action. He had a couple of M.A.s (missed assignments), but he was solid for his first game. And Shaq Anthony did a really good job in our passing game.

"Shaq is a very natural pass protector. He had a couple of critical mistakes in the run game, but he's a guy who I'm really pleased with overall. I like how he's competing."

Swinney noted that Mac Lain "settled in" after giving up an early sack.

"He was solid, both at left guard and right tackle," he said. "That's what we need him to do right now. He's still a little tentative in using his hands.

"And I thought DeStefano came in there and did a really nice job for us, as well."

Playing with the first unit, Davis turned in perhaps his best performance as a Tiger.

"Kalon really stepped up for us and played a very solid game, and that was really good to see," Swinney said. "He's been playing left guard, but he started at right guard and that allowed us to hold Shatley. We gave Kalon the opportunity, and he really did a good job with it."

The next step for the backup line will come in gaining experience playing in critical situations.

"I've got confidence in them," Swinney said. "But now we've got to put them in some crunch situations so we can prepare them for down the road."

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