CLEMSON - As Clemson begins turning its full focus toward next Saturday's
season opener at Georgia, two things are becoming apparent with the team's
First, the rebuilt unit might actually be better than its 2001 edition.
Second, one or two injuries could change that in a hurry.
This much is for certain. The starting five of center Jermyn Chester
(6-foot-2, 295 pounds), guards Greg Walker (6-5, 320), Cedric Johnson (6-4,
310) and tackles Gary Byrd (6-4, 315) and Derrick Brantley (6-4, 300) present
an upgrade in total size over the 2001 line, and would seem to be
significantly more athletic.
But when you lose three seniors on the interior, such as Clemson did with
center Kyle Young and guards Will Merritt and T.J. Watkins, size and
athleticism aren't as important as cohesion and production.
Still, though the first game remains eight days away, all early signs seem to
"The biggest thing is I'm starting to see a chemistry in this unit," said
offensive line coach Ron West. "The protection has been 100 percent better
than it was in the spring. We've made some significant improvement there.
We're starting to see some guys gel."
The most important test to date came last weekend during the team's first
With officials on the field, coaches on the sidelines and facing a live
defense in actual game conditions, the line not only performed well
physically, but handled all the on-the-fly line calls and blocking
assignments necessary on each play.
"That's where I was impressed," West said. "Jermyn Chester was our
quarterback on the offensive line, making all our front calls, and did a
pretty good job. I felt like we ran with the numbers pretty good. They knew
where they were going on the protection scheme and weren't turning people
"The quarterback had time throw the ball, step up in the pocket and execute
the offense. Those things...I thought they did pretty good."
The main concern now is depth.
William Henry is expected to be a solid backup at either tackle, but the No.
2 guard spots have drawn added interest this week. As redshirt junior Nick
Black has struggled with unexpected weight loss, true freshman Nathan Bennett
is pushing both he and redshirt freshman Mark Jetton for a spot on the depth
The backup center? Walk-on Tommy Sharpe.
Needless to say, a debilitating injury or two with this unit and it could be
a long, painful year.
"That's what worries me the most," West said. "We want to have solid guys
behind every position, but we're awfully young in some spots. We can't afford
to get anybody hurt, that's for sure."
Dan Scott covers Clemson University for the Florence Morning News. He also hosts SportsTalk from 10 a.m.-Noon, Monday-Friday, on WCCP-Fm, 104.9. Click here for Dan Scott's SportsTalk discussion board.