Tigers try to solidify interior OL

CLEMSON - There were times last season when Clemson was as good as anyone along the offensive front, and then there were times when they couldn't block the junior varsity defensive line at nearby Daniel High School.

To say the Tigers' offensive line was inconsistent during the 2008 season would be an understatement. Clemson shuffled its offensive line seven different times last season, primarily due to injuries to Barry Humphries, David Smith, Mason Cloy and Chris Hairston.

Halfway through the season, Thomas Austin moved from center to guard because of all the injuries, while player-coach Bobby Hutchinson went from coaching on the sidelines one week to playing center the next and then ending the season at starting center.

All this influx from center to guard to tackle was one reason why the Tigers went from being one of the ACC's top rushing teams to ranking near the bottom with 111.5 yards per game. Thanks to those kinds of numbers, Clemson went into spring practice with the mindset of improving things up front, especially at right guard and center.

Left guard is solidified with All-ACC lineman Thomas Austin who led the team in knockdown blocks and graded out the highest in almost every ball game.

"Austin is our most finished player right now," center and guard coach Brad Scott said. "He can play center, but the decision was made this spring to play Cloy almost exclusively at center and let's come out of spring ball with him developed as a center and also knowing what his strength and weaknesses are.

"I feel like Mason can go to guard. You know guard is a lot easier and Thomas can go to center for us, but there are reasons why we like Thomas is at guard, too. He has good leadership in there."

Scott likes Mason at center and thinks a year of experience will do wonders on how he performs this season, but he also feels that Mason getting all the center reps this spring will do a world of good, not only for his experience, but for his confidence too.

As for right guard, Scott has freshman Antoine McClain getting the majority of the first-team (Orange) work after playing in nine games last season, including a season-high 35 snaps against S.C. State.

"Antoine, in particular, has been impressive the first three days," Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. "He is a physical kid and his body is great. He is about 300 to 315 pounds and he looks really, really good. He has shown a tremendous amount of quickness.

"He played slow in the fall because he did not process the information as fast, as to where he is now on the same page as everybody."

Scott agrees with Swinney's assessment on McClain, but he is interest to see how he responds when he starts to see the defense bouncing around and moving all over the place, while showing different fronts.

"Antoine McClain is playing a lot faster than he was last year," Scott said. "All of those reps we put into him, especially the last half of the season have seemed to have paid off.

"He is so much further ahead than the other true freshmen right now. That's because he got the varsity work last year. I think his confidence is a little better. He still does not have a real firm understanding of the entire package and when things start moving a little bit and the blitzes come and the movements come, it isn't second nature for him yet, but he is a competitor.

"He doesn't complain and he is trying awfully hard. He is a good athlete for a big man. There is some upside. There is no doubt about it."

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