Young Line Shows Promise

CLEMSON - It's the one portion of Clemson's offense that remains somewhat of a wild card entering the season opener against Alabama - the offensive line. CUTigers.com checked in with the man running the show in the trenches, offensive line coach Brad Scott, to get the latest.

Brad Scott Interview: (5:37)

While it is still early and Tuesday was just the first day the Clemson football team practiced in full pads, it's safe to say some pieces are starting to come together on Clemson's young offensive line.

And not surprisingly, there are also still plenty of questions.

"It was the first day in full pads and we competed," Scott said. "We are playing a pretty good defense out there. [Thomas] Austin has done really well. Humphries has done really well right now and seems to be doing better with his pass protection than the other kids. But it's the first day of full go and we are mixing things around a bit.

"The tackles have held up okay. Hairston and Lambert. Lambert has a little bit of a better punch but Sapp and them, they get the best of us a little bit out there too. Yesterday we did not compete. Today, we competed. That's kind of about where we are."

Looking at the line position by position, it's a safe bet left tackle and center are the two positions where the starters are firmly entrenched.

Redshirt sophomore Chris Hairston is locked in at the all-important left tackle position, and will be in charge of protecting Cullen Harper's blind side, while redshirt junior Thomas Austin will get the start at center.

Nothing should change there between now and the season opener against Alabama.

The other positions? Well that's a bit of a different story.

Scott said after Tuesday's practice one player that is concerning him is redshirt freshman David Smith, who is supposed to be competing with Jamarcus Grant at left guard but has instead been mostly watching the first five days of practice due to a dislocated big toe.

"David Smith has not practiced one snap," he said. "He just keeps getting further and further behind. I moved the two freshmen in there today. Matt Sanders has shown a little bite. [Dalton] Freeman has showed he has a lot of football sense and is a pretty good athlete. They are playing second team left guard.

"I don't know when I can count on Smith being back," offensive line coach Brad Scott said. "They said it was a four to six week injury and it has been three weeks already."
"I don't know when I can count on Smith being back. They said it was a four to six week injury and it has been three weeks already."

At right guard, Barry Humphries holds the lead over Mason Cloy, who is also practicing as the second-team center behind Austin.

At right tackle, Cory Lambert is entrenched as the starter with freshman Antoine McClain backing him up.

McClain was the only freshman offensive lineman expected to play right away, and so far he's done nothing in the eyes of the staff to change their mind.

"I'm just putting him over there at second team tackle and just kind of force feeding him. He does some pretty good things," Scott said. "This offense is very complex so every time he thinks he knows the answer to a question, we change the question on him.

"We are just scratching the surface with him but I'm going to bring him on this year and we expect him to play this year. He's way behind the others, but it's only from a lack of experience and knowledge of the offense."

Meanwhile Lambert has gotten off to a good start according to Scott, strengthening his grip on the starting position while also showing surprising leadership through the first five practices of preseason camp.

Also in the mix at guard is Wilson Norris, another redshirt freshman, but Scott says he'd like to see a little more out of him than what he's seen so far.

"Norris is just having a so-so camp right now. He's doing good in the running game but is struggling in the passing game. He's getting a little careful rather than relaxed out there playing," he said.

Also serving as a backup is left tackle Landon Walker, again, another redshirt freshman who is on the second team behind Hairston.

"I've got Landon Walker playing left tackle. He's doing ok," Scott said. "The thing you have to remember about Landon is that he's a redshirt freshman. Because he came to camp in the spring and was highly recruited kid people thought he was ready for the Dallas Cowboys but he's not quite ready for the Clemson Tigers yet. So that's where we are with him."

So while all the pieces have yet to officially fall into place, this much we know: at least two starters are already in place at left tackle and center. A third is likely solidifying himself at right tackle and two pretty good battles should really start to heat up at left and right guard in the next three weeks.

In addition, don't forget about the two backups at tackle as both players, while young, are going to see their fair share of playing this year as well.

Yes, it's still early, but at least there are some answers forming to the questions that been asked now for the past nine months.

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