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Offensive Line Week
The last week of June means offensive line preview week on my radio show and the blog. Today we preview Clemson’s offensive line, Tuesday we rank the ACC, Wednesday we rank the SEC, Thursday we will look at some of the top linemen in the country and Friday we again publish your e-mails.
Clemson is as deep and talented as it has been along the offensive line in many seasons.
The Tigers will start four seniors along the offensive front and all four have played in at least 33 games in their careers. Nathan Bennett, Dustin Fry, Roman Fry and Marion Dukes have combined to start 61 games between them. The lone junior in the group, Barry Richardson, has started in 19 of the 23 games he has played through two seasons.
Lindy’s pre-season magazine ranked Dustin Fry as the nation’s 8th best center, Roman Fry as the nation’s 8th best guard and Richardson as the nation’s 12 best tackle. They ranked the top 10 centers, top ten guards and top 15 tackles and Clemson and Texas were the only two schools that had a player ranked in ach category.
The strength of this offensive line could be experience. All five players had played in wins against FSU and Miami in the Orange Bowl. In fact this season, the seniors are trying to go 3-1 against FSU in their careers and 4-0 against the in-state rival.
Another strength of the group is the depth. Clemson offensive line coach Brad Scott downplays the expectations but he thinks some of the young offensive linemen that have red-shirted have a chance to be better than this year’s group. Thomas Austin may be the most talented guard on campus and when he gets experience he could be one of the best in recent years. Barry Humphries, Corey Lambert, Jamarcus Grant, Brandon Pilgrim, Chris McDuffie and Tim DeBeer are talented but lack experience as a group.
However, I maintain that the strength of this group is its work ethic. Clemson strength coach Joey Batson and his staff say they do not have to worry about this group. You won’t hear Tommy Bowden have to call a press conference to motivate this group. They are workout warriors and their strength improvement shows. Their strength gains might not be as impressive as their condition and flexibility gains. This group of linemen understands that games are won from January to August instead of September through December.
Last season offensive coordinator Rob Spence came in and changed the blocking scheme. The Tigers switched to a zone-blocking scheme and the results speak for themselves. The offense went from averaging 108 yards rushing in 2004 to 153 yards per game last season. The passing yards improved from 188 in 2004 to 232 last season. In 2004, the Tigers averaged 21.5 points per game but improved that number to 26.3 last season. On a Thursday night in Raleigh, Clemson faced a defensive line that had two number-one picks in the upcoming April draft including the top overall pick in Mario Williams. That night Scott’s offensive linemen dominated the Pack to the tune of 234 yards rushing and 450 yards of total offense. Had James Davis not gotten injured who knows how many yards he may have had in the second half and how much more impressive the 31-10 win could have been?
The 2006 offensive line may have the most depth of any in the country at guard. Bennett and Roman Fry will start but Scott would feel comfortable playing Pilgrim, Austin, McDuffie or Grant in spells. In fact, next spring should have great competition to in the race to replace Bennett and Fry. Roman Fry is one of 54 offensive and defensive linemen from around the nation listed on the 2006 Outland Trophy Preseason Watch List. He was a second-team All-ACC offensive guard last year when he led the Tiger team in knockdown blocks with 98.5. He came on strong the second half of the season and led the team in knockdown blocks in each of the last seven games of the year. Clemson won six of those seven games.
At center, Dustin Fry is the anchor and is a very dependable middleman. He is bright and should be considered one of the leaders on this 2006 team. He has been named to the Spring Watch List of candidates for the 2006 Dave Rimington Trophy. The award is presented each year to the top center. Fry started in all 12 games in 2006, he helped Clemson to a number-two ranking in total offense in the ACC last year when he played 820 snaps on offense, more than any other Clemson player. I think Humphries will beat out Bobby Hutchinson for the back-up role and I can see Humphries being a three-year starter.
The tackles are set with Richardson and Dukes but the only question mark concerns the depth. DeBeer is solid and can play both side if needed. Lambert has all of the potential in the world but will need a sense of urgency and toughness to compete for more playing time. Capote came on strong in the spring and may see action. Quentez Ruffin needs to step it up and regain his reputation among his teammates.
The Tigers signed only two offensive linemen in February. Jamal Medlin is a tackle prospect that reminds me of Jamarcus Grant and Chris Hairston is a raw prospect that could grow into a fantastic pass protector. Neither will be counted on until they compete in the spring.
Clemson plans on signing five offensive linemen this coming February. Three early commitments along the offensive line include tackles David Smith of Greenville, SC and Landon Walker from the Tar Heel State. Wilson Norris is an interior offensive lineman from Pickens that selected the Tigers in the spring. Smith and Walker are very athletic should have a chance to compete early in their careers. Clemson is in great shape with center prospect Mason Cloy of Columbia, SC. Cloy favors the Tigers over other schools that have offered like USC, UVA, UNC, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech. Clemson is still looking to sign one more offensive tackle prospect in February.
In summary, this group is the strength of the 2006 team. Coach Scott loves guys that are hard-nosed and physical. He loves guys that will compete on every snap. Therefore, Coach Scott loves his group this season. They have everything you look for in an offensive line and this is the best group of offensive linemen in the ACC.
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