Clemson's depth at offensive tackle is paper thin. This past year's tilt in Tallahassee proved as much when starting left tackle Chris Hairston was knocked out of the game with an injury. The ensuing offensive possessions saw the Tiger line resemble more of a turnstile for the Seminole ends than any semblance of a unified front.
Desperate for quality depth and a player to develop for the future, the staff looked to address this need in the 2009 recruiting class: enter early enrollee J.K. Jay.
The gargantuan man-child committed to don the Orange and Purple before his junior season and soon became the vocal leader of Clemson's recruiting efforts. Unfortunately, a nasty leg injury sidelined Jay for his entire junior campaign. With level of competition already a question and now an entire year of critical development gone, many wondered how the trenchman would respond when finally unleashed as a senior. In a word, he dominated: in his first game back, J.K. posted a freakish 22 pancakes. No, that is not a typo; twenty-two pancakes.
The first thing that hits you in watching Jay is his size. Certainly, his competition only heightens the fact that he has a huge frame as he was easily the largest player on the field. He has a tall and relatively lean build for an offensive lineman that could stand to add a good twenty-five plus pounds with relatively little effort. He has long arms and quick hands, both ideal for pass blocking and keeping rush-ends at bay. Jay did dedicate himself to the weight room during his missed season and it is evident in his upper body strength as he is able to impose his will on defenders.
The mauling blocker complements his size with nice agility. Jay is more agile and more athletic than most linemen his size. While he isn't the fastest of players, he is surprisingly quick and has a good burst arriving at the point of attack in a hurry. He would be well utilized in a spread offense that could take advantage of his ability to block along the line as well as out in space or reaching the second level. While his skill set is best suited for tackle, he could easily play guard or be employed in a trapping or pulling scheme.
While Jay does have very nice upper body strength for a high school player, his legs leave a lot to be desired. Part of this is the high school work out and weight lifting program, and part of this is due to the leg injury preventing him working out his legs. His legs are very skinny for a prospect of his size and this deficiency is evident in his run blocking. He lacks the drive and knock back expected in his run blocking at the point of attack, often settling to engage and push rather than forcibly plowing through defenders. This also becomes a concern against stronger, bull rushing ends that may simply drive him into the backfield.
Due to the level of competition, there were several questions regarding his toughness and how he would hold up against top tier competition. Jay put those questions to bed with a strong showing at the Shrine Bowl workouts drawing compliment after compliment about his toughness and how hard he would "get after it." He more than held his own against the best of the Carolinas, competing with an ample helping of mean streak. Unfortunately, Jay injured his shoulder and was unable to shine to his fullest, but the work he did put in was impressive to say the least.
J.K. Jay's best asset may lie in his attitude about football and life in general. Mature beyond his years, he is a dogged worker constantly seeking to improve himself and his game. A true leader on and off the field, Clemson got a good prospect, but a better person in Jay. Intelligence and work ethic is quickly becoming one of the most sought after characteristics in a lineman and Jay is already well ahead of the curve in both.
PERSONAL RATING – High 4 star. Clemson hit a homerun with this kid. The stature of his high school program and an injury plagued junior year may have hurt his ranking, but don't be fooled as J.K. is a legitimate contender for the top 100 in the nation. With the benefit of spring practice, if Jay can add 15 pounds of muscle in his legs, he will be a force. I expect him to not only play as a true freshman, but see significant action. Yes, the opportunity with a scary thin depth chart is there, but rest assured: Jay will not play for depth reasons; it will be because he's too good to keep off the field.