Tigers loaded up front in 2010

CLEMSON - Brad Scott is a few years removed from the last time he's seen this many returning starters to a Clemson offensive line.

And that's a good thing.

"I feel much better about where we are right now because of the experience factor," he said.

The only hole that needs to be filled this spring is Thomas Austin's left guard spot, but even that's only temporary. Had Mason Cloy not broken his leg in the ACC Championship, he would have stepped right in as planned. This spring, he'll be limited to no contact as he tries to regain full strength before the fall.

"The good news is there's only one hole. That's the first time that's happened in a while," Scott said. "We're happy, first, that we've got four starters back in that group. We've got a guy like Mason Cloy who has been a starter in our program. That's five guys with David Smith as our other option as an experienced football player.

"It's probably the best shape we've been in going into spring practice in the last three years."

In an effort to get the five best offensive linemen on the field at the same time this spring, Smith will move back down to guard in place of Cloy, a fellow fourth-year junior.

After Smith was moved from guard last season, he emerged as a reliable third tackle. He'll cross-train at tackle, filling in for fifth-year senior left tackle Chris Hairston when he isn't with the first group.

In the past, Scott said he's aimed for eight reliable options along the line.

"Developing depth is the big key to spring practice and seeing how our second and third year players are going to respond," Scott said.

With six already lined up for the fall, the search is on for at least two other backups. There are already two candidates that first come to Scott's mind.

Redshirt freshman Brandon Thomas is the first.

He was moved down the guard from tackle midway through last season, but is back to tackle. This spring, he's being penciled in as the back up to Hairston and viewed as his eventual replacement.

"I think Brandon Thomas is kind of in the position where we thought Freeman was last year about this time," Scott said. "He showed some athletic ability as a freshman, he redshirted, we worked with him during the bowl practices and he did some good things. Now, let's just throw him into the mix a little bit and see if he can do some things."

Next is third-year sophomore Matt Sanders who's going to play both guard and center.

"I could see the opportunity to move David Smith outside and move Matt up with the ones, give him opportunity to run a little bit there," Scott said. "When Dalton (Freeman) is not in the game at center, Matt's probably in the game."

There are four others who will try to work their way into reserve roles this spring.

Less than a year after he was moved from tight end to tackle, fourth-year junior right tackle Phillip Price is up to around 280 pounds.

"He's blocking them right now, but has zero technique. If we can get him some technique and all, the ole boy's got a chance," Scott said.

Third-year junior Wilson Norris needs to improve his pass blocking this spring. He's served in backup role at right guard behind junior Antoine McClain.

"We don't have a tougher kid than Wilson. Looking at the cut-ups for us, he's an excellent run blocker," Scott said. "You like his demeanor and all. He's just got to get his complete game together."

Early enrolled freshman guard Kalon Davis is making strides during the all-in drills. Scott said he's dropped 10-12 pounds.

"The other players have mentioned it to me already, ‘Coach, he doesn't quit.' He may have realized he's a little out of shape and heavy…this kid's got something about him. He pushes, he goes through it," Scott said.

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