Spring Ball Preview: The Offensive Line

If there was area of the team that showed dramatic improvment last year, it was the offensive line. This spring, the Tigers will welcome back 8 players from a 10-man rotation that dominated the line of scrimmage during a season ending 4-game winning streak.

Night and day.

That's how you could describe the difference between the offensive line of 2002 and the offensive line of 2003 at Clemson University.

Aided by the decision to rotate in younger players through the course the year, the Tigers proved to be one of the toughest draws on the schedule for nationally ranked Florida State and Tennessee last season.

The running game improved dramatically, the pass blocking was outstanding, and the Tigers controlled the line of scrimmage in a big way in pounding out victories in each of the last four games of the 2003 season.

Ask anybody on the team, and they'll tell you that it all started after losing to Wake Forest back in early November.

"Going into the Florida State game, we knew that we really needed a big win," said left tackle Roman Fry. "We went in there and executed well and after we got it, we just felt like we could beat anybody, and that's the key. That game just helped out so much from a mental standpoint. The line, the team, everybody, really came together after that game."

This spring, head coach Tommy Bowden will welcome everyone back up front with the exception of Greg Walker and William Henry, who have both used up their eligibility.

At left tackle, redshirt sophomore Roman Fry appears to be poised to step in for Henry. Fry actually started a couple of games last season, or was generally in by the third series coming off the bench.

"Using that 10-man rotation was big for us," said Fry. "That's given us the ability to get in there and develop in game situations. So we've got a lot of young guys in there who are really developing. I'd say things look pretty good for us heading into next season when you look at who we've got coming back."

Brandon Pilgrim has one of the top returning linemen on the team in front of him at left guard in Cedric Johnson.
At right tackle, sophomore Marion Dukes will step in for Greg Walker. Dukes surprised most analysts last year when he became one of the most impressive true freshmen on the team.

Quietly, some of the people that follow Clemson football the closest have suggested that Marion Dukes has as much talent and potential as any lineman on the team in the coming years.

At left guard, SR Cedric Johnson appears to have the inside track over SO Brandon Pilgrim, but Pilgrim will push for 25+ snaps a game.

To say that Johnson's play from 2002 to 2003 improved dramatically would be an understatement, in fact, "Big Ced" graded out the highest of any lineman on the team last year. He's also one of the strongest players in school history, boasting a 530-pound bench press.

At right guard, Nathan Bennett and Chip Myrick will continue their battle for playing time.

Bennett, now a redshirt sophomore, and Myrick a redshirt junior, split their starts a year ago after competing each week on the practice fields for a spot on the first team.

"Competition is good for us," said offensive line coach Ron West before making an expected move over to coach the defensive linemen. "You've got to have competition on this team if you expect to improve, otherwise you get complacent, and we can't have that."

At center, senior Tommy Sharpe will do everything in his power once again to hold off redshirt sophomore Dustin Fry.

And perhaps this is one of the more intriguing battles up front this spring. Most experts were predicting Fry to overtake Sharpe last season simply because Dustin outweighs Tommy by a good 45-50 pounds, but it didn't happen.

Apparently, the early concern involved the center-quarterback exchange between Fry and Charlie Whitehurst. That has long since been corrected, and we expect Fry to challenge for much more playing time this year.

Undoubtedly, his continued development this spring will be imperative for more snaps this fall.

Other players to watch this spring include redshirt freshmen Chris Capote and Clint LaTray.

LaTray has been groomed for playing this year, and has earned the praises of several coaches this offseason. Capote was expected to challenge for playing time as a true freshman, but an early foot injury limited his effectiveness during the early stages of practice last August.

Capote figures to see action this spring as a reserve tackle.

As a side note of interest, assistant head coach Brad Scott is expected to take over for Ron West this year coaching the offensive line.

Scott was the offensive line coach and offensive coordinator at Florida State in 1993- a year that the Seminoles captured the National Championship.

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