Evaluating the big uglies

SENECA - Robbie Caldwell is very well-aware of the question marks surrounding his group, which is largely made up of young and inexperienced players.


The Clemson offensive line saw a mass exodus of key contributors after the 2011 season. Each of the five offensive linemen that are gone from last year's team was a significant contributor and had experience as a starter.

Tackles Phillip Price and Landon Walker held down first-team duties last season. So did right guard Antoine McClain. Both Walker and McClain were stalwarts up front during their four years.

David Smith and Mason Cloy played versatile roles throughout their careers. Smith worked at both positions on the left-side and Cloy played center and both guard positions.

Just weeks before the start of his second season with the Tigers, Caldwell has six guys with playing experience on the offensive side of the ball. Four of the six have combined to play 157 snaps.

Caldwell is in a position that's grown quite accustom to during his five decades of coaching.

Landon Walker started at right tackle for the last 2 1/2 seasons.
"I've always been an underdog," he said earlier this week at the Dabo Swinney media golf outing.

"I like scratching and clawing, and working your way back to the top. That'll be a lot of fun."

In all but one season since 1978, Caldwell has been an offensive line coach. He said he can handle the abuse reserved for the big uglies.

"Offensive linemen, we're a little different. We're everybody's whipping boy. If something goes wrong, they're going to all slap on us. That's alright. We can take it," he said. "In our room, we want to accept responsibility. We start with ourselves. We ain't looking for nobody to blame but ourselves. We're going to accept responsibility ourselves.

"It takes a different person for that. You're not going to get your name called, other than in a bad way. They know that. But they know it's hard to run an off tackle play without a tackle."

When asked to sum up his biggest concern about Clemson's offensive line in 2012, he needed one word -- consistency. But that came with an aside.

"I think we have some talented guys. Athletically, we could be better than the group last year -- we will be better. That's not a slight on anyone, just facts," he said.

Caldwell shared thoughts on each of the players he was specifically asked about during Tuesday's interview.

Brandon Thomas
"I think he's got an opportunity to be a very good left tackle. Athletically, no doubt, he can."

"Brandon is a very good leader. But what he's had to do is learn how to talk. I didn't know he could even speak, the first semester I had him. I didn't even know, because he never said a word. He's stepping forward and taking that leadership role, and he's just going to be a junior."

Kalon Davis
"I think he's got an opportunity to be a very good player for us…he spent his whole freshman year in the training room, injured. This summer is the first-time in, probably, a year and a half that he's done a squat or a power clean. That tells you he's going to make tremendous progress. I foresee him doing big things for us."

Freeman was a finalist for last year's Rimington Trophy.
Dalton Freeman
"Mentally, attitude and all, it's been extraordinary. Compared with any I've ever had, as good or better. One of our goals was for Dalton to put on a little more weight and become a little more aggressive. He worked on that this spring, got better at it. Dalton could have an opportunity to make a lot of money one day, because -- athletically, mentally -- he can do very good things at the next level.

"He struggled putting on weight. It's funny, his mom got after about it as well. Eating is just not something he enjoys. I don't know. That's amazing for an offensive lineman. He's probably about 285…he's everything you could ask from an individual."

"I'd like to see him [around] 295, 300 pounds."

"He's a guy you could throw a playbook at, and in two days he'll have it."

Tyler Shatley
"He just brings toughness and an attitude. He's been on the field…he was a little bit worried about it when he first came over. It didn't take long to put him at ease, because he's a very sharp young man. Academics and football don't always go hand in hand. In this case it does. He's studying to be an engineer.

"He understands leverage, angles and concepts. That part was pretty easy for him. Probably -- not probably -- did make less mistakes than a first-time player learning the system that I've ever had in 30-something years. That tells you how hungry he was, how important it was for him to catch it. He wants to earn his way."

Gifford Timothy
"Most of his is just confidence. I think he has the ability, and I think he knows that. We see spurts of it…I'm really excited about Gifford. I really think he's a student of the game. He's going to know what to do. You better not tell him wrong, because he going to do just what you teach him to do."

Battle enrolled at Clemson in January after a semester at Fork Union Military Academy.
Isaiah Battle
"He's a young kid. We're not putting any pressure on him. He has a ways to go, because he hasn't played much football. I'll tell you right now, if you want to see athletic ability, just throw a ball out there on that basketball court and watch him go…but that doesn't make you a football player, particularly on the offensive line."

Patrick Destefano
"He's played both tackle and guard. He's handled it really well, mentally. He is really a sharp guy. He gives us -- a guy that young to be able to swing positions that way -- he's been very impressive. Patrick, obviously, has to put on some weight at the guard position. It's been a big adjustment."

Joe Gore
"I see great things for him, if he continues. He's a tremendous athlete. He's tough. He's physical, a very mobile guy. Once he learns, I'm not so sure he couldn't play both sides. I usually ask them to play two positions. You've got to get one under your belt first. That's kind of like Brandon Thomas.

Oliver Jones
"O.J. missed his junior year. Coming in here in December, he's got a lot of catching up to do, getting weight off, putting it back on the right way, getting him in shape, getting his flexibility back."

Ryan Norton and Jay Guillermo
"I'd like to play one at guard a little bit. They're still getting their feet wet and learning. I think Ryan Norton could make the biggest adjustment jumping over there. Jay is just 17."

"For Jay, not so much football-wise, but all of a sudden here is, away from home for the first-time in a new environment."

Spencer Region
"When I left [for vacation], he was in the 350's. He looked pretty good, at a distance this morning. He got away before I could get a hold of him. They were outside running and we can't go out there. When he came in, he had a big smile on his face, so the scale must have went down.

"He's one, in the recruiting process he hurt his knee and enjoyed the recruiting and visiting, and really swelled up in a bad way. We're having to go down and come back. He's working at it, has a good attitude about it."

CUTigers.com Top Stories