Post Spring Analysis: The O-Line

Last season, the offensive line at Clemson University shed a lot of labels, and they'll be out to duplicate that improvement in 2004. Today, we take a look at the offensive line as it stands heading into the start of fall practice. Is concern about the left and right tackle positions justified?

To suggest that the Tigers' offensive line improved by leaps and bounds last year may be somewhat of an understatement.

The same group of guys that opened up the year getting blasted by Georgia to the tune of 30-0, proudly stood on the other end of a 27-14 pasting of nationally ranked Tennessee during the season ending win in the Peach Bowl.

And this spring, expectations for the offensive line continued to rise.

Finally, there appears to be a solid two-man rotation at each position in the interior of the line, where a solid mix of youth and experience seems to be the general theme.

At center, senior Tommy Sharpe held off sophomore Dustin Fry once again, but the two will both see their share of snaps throughout the 2004 season.

Sharpe has proven to be a scrappy, undersized lineman with the heart of a lion. And while he may not be the most intimidating player on the team, he's proven his worth on the field time and time again.

Meanwhile his counterpart, Dustin Fry, set the team bench press record by doing 42 reps of 225 pounds before the start of spring practice and continues to show improvement that should warrant more playing time entering his second season of action.

At left guard, Cedric Johnson has emerged as a clear leader for the Tigers up front. Johnson, who graded out the highest of any lineman last year, will start ahead of sophomore Brandon Pilgrim.

Pilgrim was able to avoid a redshirt year last season and that move should pay plenty of dividends in 2004 as he continues to see his role increase and gain more game day experience.

At right guard, Nathan Bennett and Chip Myrick continue to rotate in and out with the first team. Bennett was named the most improved offensive lineman of spring practice, and may have the slight advantage once the Tigers resume workouts later this summer.

Nevertheless, this is a position where both players will see significant reps this year and don't be sruprised to see both Myrick and Bennett earn their fair share of starts before the 2004 season winds down.

The left and right tackle positions on the offensive line are the two biggest question marks headed into the start of fall practice.
While the interior of the offensive line appears to be solid on both the first and second teams, both the left and right tackle positions that the coaching staff remains concerned about headed into the 2004 regular season.

Roman Fry will step in for former Tiger William Henry at left tackle and Marion Dukes steps in for former Tiger Gregory Walker on the right side.

Interestingly enough, both players received significant snaps last season, and the general consensus was that both players offered an upgrade in talent from their counterparts of a year ago.

However this spring, tackle was a position that lacked any sort of consistency and stability.

For starters, the entire line was under the direction of coach Brad Scott for the first time, so it goes without saying that there was a significant adjustment period under a new position coach.

In addition, Dukes missed a week of spring practice with a death in the family.

Coach Scott also tinkered with his lineup, moving walk-ons Jesse Pickens and Cole Downer into the two deep rotation, and he also started Tim DeBeer in the Orange & White game.

In short, both the right and left tackle positions lacked any sort of consistency across multiple fronts for almost all 15 practice sessions this spring.

In fact, it probably shouldn't come as too much of a surprise when you consider that both Henry and Walker are gone after being in the program for 5 years, that there were missed practices, and a new position coach in the mix, that these events unfolded in the way that they did.

"It's a justified concern," said Tommy Bowden. "We've haven't gotten the level of play we are looking for there. Some days it was there, some days it wasn't. You want to see some consistency, but we just didn't get that."

Bowden isn't sugar coating the issue in the least bit, and that was his stance throughout spring practice.

There is concern here at these two positions, and after reviewing film from the spring game you can understand why. Defensive ends Charles Bennett, Mo Fountain, and Vontrell Jamison simply dominated the line of scrimmage and hassled Charlie Whitehurst all afternoon long.

But that's all behind the team now.

The good news is that Coach Bowden and Coach Scott will have a month this fall to get their troops playing at the level that is expected of them, and no one in their right mind is going to question the physical skills or natural ability of Marion Dukes and Roman Fry.

Those guys have gotten the job done early in their careers, and they'll do it again this fall.

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