SPRING PREVIEW: Questions Surround OL

With the start of spring practice just days away, CUTigers.com takes a closer look at the offensive line.

WHO'S BACK? Virtually no one after four of five starters departed after the Chick-Fil-A bowl, including first team All-ACC performers Chris McDuffie and Barry Richardson. The bad news is only center Thomas Austin returns as a regular starter. The good news is three other linemen, including one starter in the Chick-Fil-A Bowl, right tackle Chris Hairston, as well as Barry Humphries who also has starting experience and Cory Lambert are all back- giving the Tigers more options on the up front than most realize.

WHO'S NEW: A host of redshirt freshmen are expected to compete for playing time this spring, including center Mason Cloy, tackle Landon Walker, guard/tackle David Smith and guard Wilson Norris. All four have been discussed as "talent upgrades" by Clemson offensive line coach Brad Scott in recent months. This spring they'll finally get to prove their worth. Also, senior Jock McKissic will get his shot on offense this year after making the move over from defensive tackle. He started 12 of 13 games on defense two years ago, but was looking at a reduced role again in 2008 given the experience level of the returning players and the increased talent of the incoming freshmen.

Something to Prove: Remember this play? Jock McKissic taking an interception back almost 90 yards for a touchdown against South Carolina in 2006? Now McKissic has moved to offensive tackle in hopes of stablizing a line that lost four of five staters from a year ago.
BATTLE TO WATCH: Left tackle. Who will replace big Barry Richardson, who is likely to be selected in the 2008 NFL Draft next month? Will it be freshman Landon Walker? What about Chris Hairston? Is Cory Lambert finally ready to live up to the expectations set forth years ago? The answer is Lambert is likely the short term answer until Walker gets enough reps to take over the position. Still, this spring it should be intriguing to see which player emerges as the starter headed into fall camp.

WHAT NEEDS TO HAPPEN: With so many new players stepping into starting positions, the offensive line must come together as quickly as possible if the Tigers are going to be successful in the 2008 season. That starts this spring. One of the keys in a zone blocking scheme, or any scheme for that matter is to be able to anticipate what the player next to you is going to do in any situation. That comes with experience. The sooner the starting five is determined- the better.

BOLD PREDICTIONS: Chris Hairston gets moved to left tackle and is named the starter and Landon Walker beats out Cory Lambert at right tackle. Barry Humphries starts at left guard while Thomas Austin reclaims his starting spot at center. David Smith earns the other starting spot at guard and Jock McKissic emerges as a quality backup on the right side. Mason Cloy sees time at both center and guard and works his way in the rotation more at guard for the 2008 season.

TEAM IMPACT: The offensive line is the single biggest question mark surrounding the 2008 version of the Clemson football team. Given the talent returning on defense, not to mention the large number of skill position players returning on offense, the line has to step up its play so this team can achieve its goals.

And it won't be easy.

While it is somewhat hard to believe two players from last year's unit were All-ACC peformers and will likely be drafted in two months, and four of five starters need to be replaced, that's exactly how things stand going into spring practice.

"I have to sure up our guard situation," Clemson offensive line coach Brad Scott said. "We lost two senior guards right there and Barry Humphries has played some guard, but I have to get more consistent play and I have to have another starter at offensive guard so it has to come from somebody and some of our third and fourth year guys better step up."

If the Tigers are going to get to Tampa for the 2008 ACC Championship game, the offensive line has to be more consistent than it was in 2007. That means more time for Cullen Harper to throw and bigger holes for James Davis and C.J.S Spiller to run through.

To put things in perspective, Clemson returns more talent on the offensive side of the ball at the skill positions than at any other point in school history. But those skill players need blocking up front to live up to their potential.

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