Because the hash marks in the NFL are only 18½ feet apart, most plays originate reasonably close to the center of the field. The hash marks are 40 feet apart in the college game, however, which means a lot of plays are significantly closer to one sideline than the other. Clawson believes he can use this to his advantage.
Basically, the coordinator hopes to utilize some offensive linemen on the boundary (nearest the sideline) and others on the field (farthest from the sideline). It makes sense to have your quick tackle on the wide side of the field, where he can utilize his speed on screen passes, sweeps, etc. It also makes sense to station your strong tackle (presumably bigger and slower) on the side nearest the boundary, since his lack of quickness will be less troublesome in a confined area.
Clawson plans to go a step further, however. Essentially, he wants to utilize his linemen like chess pieces.
"You always talk about mismatches with offensive skill players – getting a tailback matched up on a linebacker, getting a receiver matched up on a safety," Clawson says. "I like to apply that to the guys upfront. If we're going to run a critical play at a critical time, I want to make sure I have the flexibility to move the offensive linemen where I want them."
The Vol coordinator believes moving his blockers based on the situation – much as Florida coach Urban Meyer might move a scatback such as Percy Harvin – will force an opposing defense to be a little more basic and predictable.
"The one thing we want to be on offense is multiple from a formation standpoint," Clawson said. "We show a lot of different looks and a lot of different formations. The goal of that is to force teams to defend us in field and boundary defenses.
"We want to become very hard to defend formationally. If we can force teams to defend us in field and boundary defenses, the 'strong' and the 'quick' allows the guys to constantly be blocking the same looks."
Tennessee used a small-scale variation of this strategy under former coordinator David Cutcliffe in 2006. Cutcliffe routinely stationed Arron Sears so he'd be blocking the opposing team's best defensive lineman. If the opponent had a superstar defensive end, Sears would line up at left tackle. If the opponent had a superior defensive tackle, Sears might move to right guard. That way Cutcliffe generally got the matchup he wanted.
Moving his quick tackle and strong tackle, his quick guard and strong guard – based on where the ball is spotted in relation to the sidelines – should help Clawson get the matchups he wants in the trenches this fall.
"If the game is on the line and there's a certain play you want to run to a certain side of the field, I want to make sure we have the best players running it," the coordinator notes. "Hopefully, you can run all plays both ways (field side and boundary side). But, as you go through the course of the season, you may have injuries."
The concept seems a little bizarre, partly because no one in the NFL utilizes anything like it.
"You don't see that in the NFL because the game is played almost entirely in the middle of the field (due to narrow hash marks)," Clawson says, "whereas in college football, the looks you get to the field and to the boundary sides often are very different."
By repositioning his offensive linemen based on proximity to the sideline, Clawson also manages to give the opposing defense a few more looks to contend with.
"It's allowed us to be more multiple," Clawson says. "It's allowed us to use linemen the same way you think about using skill guys."