Caldwell Confident with new group

Much scrutiny has been made of the loss of starting LT Isaiah Battle to the NFL supplementary draft, but Offensive Line Coach Robbie Caldwell and the rest of the staff seem completely confident that his absence will not be a detriment.

For a quick review, your starting O-Line, as of now, looks like this:

LT Mitch Hyatt
LG Eric Mac Lain
C Ryan Norton
RG Tyrone Crowder
RT Joe Gore

Much scrutiny has been made of the loss of starting LT Isaiah Battle to the NFL supplementary draft, but Offensive Line Coach Robbie Caldwell and the rest of the staff seem completely confident that his absence will not be a detriment.

For one, Hyatt is as talented and intelligent as a true freshman tackle can be, and he is the beneficiary of being on campus since January, participating in spring practice. Second, many of the other players on the line have already cross-trained at tackle or left tackle, so it shouldn't be a problem finding support if needed.

Gore has played both right and left tackle, for example. Mac Lain played at tackle a bunch. Maverick Morris also has experience at tackle, and Taylor Hearn came in as a tackle before moving to guard. Caldwell said they also played true freshman Jake Fruhmorgen on the left side a lot during spring practice, so they have plenty of interchangeable options with which to work over the long course of August camp. Coordinators Scott and Elliott echoed these same sentiments when I discussed the situation with them.

The key to Clemson's versatility on the O-Line is the philosophy with which they recruit players. Caldwell said he asks every recruit whether he'd prefer to start at a different position on the line or be a backup at his natural position. He said they look for guys who want to play first and foremost. To wit, Eric Mac Lain came to Clemson as a tight end, and now he is one of the anchors of the line at starting left guard.

"Mac will do anything you need him to do. It ain't easy moving from tight end to the inside and you're gonna have mouth-to-mouth contact every play now. That ain't easy." Caldwell said he admired Mac Lain for both his skill as a player and his leadership qualities off the field. "His parents are great people. His dad defends us every day. His dad's military. His mom has been through cancer, so they've been through it all, and to come with the attitude they do is just tremendous."

Mac Lain was recently nominated for the Allstate Good Works Team, so he is leading by example and a great ambassador of Clemson. He is also one of the funnier people you will ever talk to.

On the subject of versatility, Caldwell reminisced about Reid Webster from last season: "'Ole Reid Webster--remember him? Played all 5 positions in one game; made history? 16-play drive against Louisville. That's what I call a Rembrandt! Had we scored, it would have been one of them Mona Lisa's."

Caldwell doesn't put much stock in physical attributes dictating position, such as playing taller guys at tackle. He said if a guy can play, he's gonna play. Caldwell said the same thing about stars and recruiting rankings.

"A lot of that stuff's overrated. That's what I like about 'ole Maverick Morris. He came to camp, and we made him an offer. He said, 'Coach, I don't have any of those stars next to my name.' I said, 'That's why I like you!' Most of those guys who come up with the stars have never put on a uniform."

Sometimes the recruiting services do get it right, and it appears they did in the case of true freshmen Mitch Hyatt and Jake Fruhmorgen, who will bookend the O-Line at left and right tackle, respectively. Caldwell is supremely confident in Hyatt and Fruhmorgen. He talked about their hunger and eagerness to learn. He said they are both intelligent and extremely coachable. "They love football and they learn," said the veteran coach. "Athletically, intelligence...they have it all."

Redshirt Junior Jay Guillermo came to Clemson a few years ago as another highly rated prospect. He was the No. 1 ranked center in the nation according to ESPN. He has had some injuries, however, and left school due to medical issues, but it seems he will return to the fold this season, which will provide some much-needed depth on the interior and flexibility with the others in the middle. Caldwell said that the loss of Guillermo revealed the hidden potential of another player.

"With Jay gone, Justin Falcinelli did an unbelievable job. I challenged him to move over to center, and he'd never snapped a ball before in his life," he said. "He's been fantastic. It was a tough sled; he threw the ball every which way at first. I said, 'Ah, just go back over there to guard.' But he said, 'No, Coach, I'm gonna do it!' and he did. He had a great spring. Reverse psychology, I guess you would call it."

The aged in years but young-at-heart Caldwell said he's having such a good time that he might coach until he's 100.

"I love teaching the game. I love seeing their eyes light up when it all comes together for them."

When asked what he looks forward to most this time of year, Caldwell replied, "Getting in meetings. Meeting with this group--they are hungry to learn. Man, that's refreshing! That's the kind of stuff that makes you young." He went on to say, "We've got a great group. I have a ball! We've got a lot of 'old heads' and a lot of young ones. Me and Coach Brooks [sic] are old school. We like to say 'old school with modern ways.'"

Caldwell believes going up against the No. 1 defense in the nation day-in and day-out last season has made this group much stronger, and he also hopes his unit has contributed to the success of the defense.

"I told our guys before: one of our goals is to make this defense #1 in the country," he said. "I don't know if we had a hand in that or not, but that's been our goal. And if we keep the ball, that's less they've gotta defend."

The second-string offensive line (for now) looks like this:

Eric Mac Lain LT
Taylor Hearn LG
Justin Falcinelli C
Maverick Morris RG
Jake Fruhmorgen RT

Jay Guillermo should also be providing support on the interior at center and/or guard. As mentioned, the left tackle situation will be a fluid one, and there will be a lot of shifting cogs throughout August camp as Caldwell and the offensive staff try different combinations to identify the best starting five and the right combinations when they come out. This will be one of the top storylines of camp and will be something we will revisit on almost a daily basis, so stay tuned for updates throughout August!

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