Post spring insider: left guard

CLEMSON — After starting the first half of the 2008 season at center, Thomas Austin, who has led the Tigers in knockdown blocks the last two seasons, moved to left guard.

It proved to be a smart move by offensive line coach Brad Scott because it put Clemson's best offensive lineman at the position where he was needed the most.

The move played big dividends in why the Tigers ended the 2008 regular season with a 4-2 record and qualified for a bowl game for the 10th consecutive year.

"Austin is so good and is a proven player, we needed him there," Scott said. "The defenses we see in our conference, the guards are covered more than the centers and I think it is important to have Austin over there at the point of attack."

By leading the way at the point of attack, Austin earned second team All-ACC honors, while also earning three ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week honors. In the last three regular season games, he recorded 35 knockdown blocks as Clemson beat Duke, Virginia and South Carolina to close the regular season.

There is no doubt Austin will be the starter at left guard when the season starts, but who will be pushing him for playing time and providing depth for Clemson's most secure position along the offensive front.

Thomas Austin (6-foot-3, 315 pounds, redshirt senior, Camden, S.C.)
About: Though he plays guard, Mel Kiper ranks him as the top senior center in the nation for the 2010 draft. The second-team All-ACC selection started seven games at center in 2008 and six at left guard. He was the first Clemson offensive lineman to be named ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week three times in the same season since 1989 when Stacey Long did the same thing. He has won that honor five times in his career, which is tied for the most by a Clemson lineman in history. He is two off the all-time record for a player.

The positives: Austin is strong off the ball and is very powerful. He has led the team in knockdown blocks in each of the last two seasons. He is also technique sound as he led the squad with a team-high 82 percent grade for the season. He is also very durable. The only offensive lineman to start all 13 games last season.

The negatives: There really are not too many from a playing standpoint. As anyone, I'm sure he can improve a little bit in every phase as he tries to gear himself for the NFL. The only will knock on the Camden (S.C.) native is his vocal leadership, which is something he has improved on since the end of last season.

Barry Humphries (6-foot-2, 300 pounds, redshirt senior, Belton, S.C.)
About: One of the veterans of the offensive line. He missed most of last year with an ACL injury and played in just two games. Started against Alabama and suffered an ACL injury on the 19th play of the game. Came back and played 23 snaps against Georgia Tech at midseason, but then tore his ACL the following week in practice.

The positives: Humphries has paid his dues. He is a guy that Scott has complete confidence in. He can play center or guard, but Scott will leave him at guard. Scott will let him come into camp and compete against Austin and Antoine McClain. If he doesn't win the job, then he is the next furthest along and will have significant playing time at guard. Humphries can play center, but he does a little bit better at guard. He is the strongest player on the team. Excellent pass blocker once he gets his hands on his guy. He can lock them down pretty good. He is the third guard overall and can play either right guard or left guard.

The negatives: His durability. How much damage did last year's injuries really have on his knee? Can he comeback from surgery and be just an effective? Also, he isn't the biggest guy and sometimes his size has been an issue against quality defensive tackles. Roster says he is 6-foot-2, but he seems to be closer to 6-foot.

Wilson Norris (6-foot-4, 310 pounds, redshirt sophomore, Pickens, S.C.)
About: He is a reserved offensive guard that played in seven games last season. He played 61 snaps overall and had five knockdowns. He had an average film grade of 74 percent and played a season-high 17 snaps against The Citadel. He had two knockdown blocks in 14 snaps against Georgia Tech.

The positives: Norris is an excellent run blocker. He went from 330 to 305 pounds which has helped him be a little quicker and more competitive. When we did the Oklahoma drills and the one-on-one blocking drills, he is probably the most powerful guy coming off the ball. He has a chance to play. He just has to get a little more confidence in his pass protection.

The negatives: He is still suspect in his pass protection at times in some of his one-on-one schemes. That has not been in his background so he is fighting through it right now. He did make improvement there in the spring. He had an ACL injury in a summer all-star game before his first season at Clemson. Last spring was the first time he got coached and then last year he was learning so he is just starting the process really. He will be a redshirt sophomore this year and Scott believes he is where he needs to be at this point in his career. Top Stories