Building Depth at Tackle

Marion Dukes rarely got tired last year as a freshman, which seems a little odd considering he's a burley 6-foot-4, 315-pound offensive tackle for Clemson.

Such was life for the Pickens native, as he spent most of the practices with the rest of the freshmen and backup players on the sidelines watching the starters.

However, all that has now changed. Dukes walked off the practice field Monday night dripping so much sweat that he probably lost five pounds of body weight.

Welcome to the starting lineup, Mr. Dukes.

"To tell you the truth, there's really not that much of a difference between starting and not starting," the right offensive tackle said. "With the twos, you just don't get that many plays. You just get more reps with the ones and you get tired quicker. With the twos, you don't get that many reps, so you don't sweat as much."

Dukes, along with redshirt sophomore, Roman Fry, are the two new anchors on the offensive line. Fry is slated to start at left tackle, which many believe is the most important spot on the offensive line because he has to protect the quarterback from being blindsided.

The two of them raised some concerns from fans and coaches following the spring game in which the defensive ends were so dominant. But that's what happens when two young and inexperienced linemen are put up against talented upperclassmen.

The only way to counteract that is for Dukes and Fry to play nearly every offensive down.

"They need to stay healthy and get every single rep they can get and then just throw them out there," Tigers head coach Tommy Bowden said. "And I would think that as the season goes along that they will get better every game. It's not that they're not good players, they are. It's just that they don't have the experience that two fifth-year seniors had last year."

"I'm learning my plays a whole lot better and I'm getting better everyday," said Dukes. "Sometimes you can take what people say to heart, but I don't."
Fry said he's heard the concerns and has even seen articles written about it. But he added that it just makes him want to prove to everyone that he and Fry are going to be just fine.

"I wasn't concerned about it because I knew we were young and that we were getting used to playing with the ones," he said. "I think the talk from people has helped. I think it's motivated me. I'm pushing myself to be the best right tackle that I can be.

"Right now I'm learning my techniques better and I'm learning my plays a whole lot better and I'm getting better everyday. Sometimes you can take what people say to heart, but I don't."

Offensive line coach Brad Scott has been pleased for the most part with what he's seen in practice for the two big guys.

"They worked over the summer and the first couple of days were solid days," Scott said. "The competition will start tomorrow when we go against the defense a little bit more (in full pads). We probably had 30 minutes of work against each other (Monday). I thought they held up a little bit. They did OK.

"They're good and talented kids, they just need a little experience and you get experience through practicing. But they did play last year and we didn't have to cancel the game when they were on the field. So, I do think we'll be OK."

Just in case there is a glitch with Dukes or Fry, or should one of them go down with an injury, Scott also said that two true freshmen are doing well, too.

"I've been very impressed with both, Barry Richardson and Akeem Robinson," Scott said. "We felt like Akeem had a chance to be a really good player, and he will be. We knew coming in that he was a good athlete. I had no idea that Barry would be as mature as he is. If you said, ‘Who's been the biggest surprise of three practices?' It would be Barry Richardson. He's done some pretty impressive things."

Nonetheless, the two freshmen won't get much playing time unless it's absolutely necessary. Scott wants them to learn and grow more as football players. After all, many consider the offensive line spots to be the most difficult positions to learn.

"Fans sometimes have a tendency to want to make a guy immediately ready to come out there and play and help you," Scott said. "It's very hard for an offensive lineman to get ready to play his first year. If we feel like we've got some that are ready to play this year, we'll ease them in to it.

"Then what you're trying to do is build for depth for the middle of the season and then for a strong finish. And I think that's what we did with Dukes last year. And that's what we did with (guard Brandon) Pilgrim last year. It looks like those two (freshmen) tackles I mentioned might be candidates this year."

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