Position facts: Offensive Line

The open of fall camp is right around the corner and CUTigers is taking a look at facts for each position. Here are a few about the offensive line before camp opens Tuesday.

It was before the 2009 season ended when Thomas Austin spoke of his replacement, not at left guard, but as the leader of the group. In stepped redshirt senior Chris Hairston.

Now that Austin is trying to catch on in the NFL with the Minnesota Vikings, it's Hairston who's taken over the duties as leader of Clemson's offensive line.

Hairston has the résumé to back it up. Last season, he was voted to the All-ACC second team. That's when he moved into a full-time role as the starting left tackle. Before 2009, Hairston had 10 starts at tackle.

Offensive coordinator Billy Napier has already issued a challenge to anyone who believes the offensive line lacks toughness. Hairston admitted at the ACC Football Kickoff that was an issue in the past. Now he wonders how anyone can question the group's toughness.

Hairston said the group is out to prove to those that still question their toughness that they're wrong.

The group took a step in the right direction last season by cutting down the sacks per game. The line also played a role in drastically increasing the amount of rushing yards a game, compared to 2008.

Still, the unit becoming more powerful and consistent at the point of attack is a must if the offense is going to maintain its production minus C.J. Spiller, Jacoby Ford and Michael Palmer.

According to the post-spring depth chart, the battle at left guard is still unresolved. Redshirt juniors Mason Cloy and David Smith are both listed in bold as the starter. But it looks like Smith could be the guy—considering the praise he received for his work in the spring.

That would leave Cloy as a nice second option at two positions. Not only would he be an experienced, serviceable backup to Smith, but also to third-year sophomore Dalton Freeman.

Smith's versatility helps sure things up at tackle, particularly on the right-side behind redshirt junior Landon Walker.

Redshirt freshman Brandon Thomas is being groomed as the heir apparent to Hairston at left tackle. The Clemson coaching staff would feel much more comfortable with him as a third option at tackle—especially if it's on the quarterback's blindside.

Ideally, he'll be ready once the season starts on Sept. 4. If not, then sometime mid-way through the season (like Freeman in 2009).

It's similar situation on the right-side. Though Antoine McLain has one more season of eligibility after 2010, freshman Kalon Davis will be counted on as a reserve. The staff believes he's made great strides since arriving to campus in January, particularly in the management of his weight.

Fellow 2010 signee David Beasley enters fall camp as another potential candidate for early playing time inside.

Even though a backup at every offensive line position is a rarity in college football, the Tigers' staff would be content with eight reliable options on the offensive front.

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