Although 4 of the starting 5 seem to be set, Brad Scott was interviewed recently and gave his impressions on the interior linemen he's responsible for.
What's your assessment of the offensive line thus far?
Scott: "We're beginning to develop a little continuity, I think, with the group that's working in there in the first line. I can speak of the inside people. Right now, that's Austin and Cloy and McClain. There's still some good competition at some positions, but that seems to be our best group with calls and communication, identifying the fronts, execution. They're improving."
Question: So you can't talk about the tackles?
Are you doing any cross-training from guard to tackle with guys like David Smith, Antoine McClain, Dalton Freeman?
Scott: "No. We do a little bit sometimes in pass rush at all positions, so they will have played a little tackle. And we've let some other guys play center. But as far as scrimmage plays and all, we haven't done that."
Are Kenneth Page and Matt Sanders capable of becoming legitimate two-deep guys this year?
Scott: "Sanders is getting better. Both of them are getting better. Sanders is a little further ahead than Page. It's a developmental position. It takes a lot of guys three years before they're ready to go. Sometimes guys get pushed into it a little earlier, as in last year. But I would say Sanders is making real good progress, and Page is improving."
How about at center. Is Dalton giving Mason a serious challenge there?
Scott: "He is. Not quite as comfortable right now with our communication with him in there. I think he knows what he's doing, but last scrimmage he wasn't as loud, as sure of his calls, being the quarterback of the offensive line. And let me add this: Our defense is giving us multiple looks. And I mean multiple with a capital M. So that's not easy for the centers. But Freeman is right there battling. Cloy had a bad day earlier in the week, and Freeman stepped up and did a pretty good job. Cloy has kind of come back. Cloy has had a good camp. I'm going to play them both. I think Freeman has got a chance to be an outstanding player. He might be one of our top five. If that's the case, then we'd have to find a place for him. Right now, we're not doing that. We're still battling at center. We're still in camp right now."
Although as fall camp ends, it seems Cloy is really starting to put things together at Center because he communicates the calls better. You would think that anybody would only have to be told once to scream the call to the other linemen however.
How much more comfortable do you feel with this line as opposed to a year ago, when you had so little experience?
Scott: "Much more comfortable. We're not having many MA's in practice against a good defense with many fronts. We're not spending as much time having to coach assignments as we are now techniques. We've got guys who are a year old, they've played together – again, the whole communication thing. A lot happens just before the snap that can't be verbalized, and experience takes over. It says, 'Hey, I know when a guy goes from here to here that my scheme changes and I've got to do this.' That's what I mean by missed assignments. I think our standards are a little bit better in there because the kids are a little more confident. When you don't have MA's, you're not out there thinking and you have confidence and you can play harder and a little faster."
When asked about recruiting, he mentioned that they generally hope to hit on 3 of 5 recruits they bring in at OL and that some of the difficulties of the Linemen the last decade have been just adjusting to new offenses being given to them (RR, Scott, O'Cain, Spence).
Lambert seems to really be pushing Walker for the RT job, and NONE of the coaches are really committal on Walker getting the spot.
"Landon had a better scrimmage Saturday," Dabo Swinney said. "And Cory (Lambert) is beginning to battle a little bit. I feel a little better there. We didn't make as many mistakes as we made the first scrimmage. I thought Landon played with a little better pad level."
Cloy I think will cement the Center job, and has been running out with the 1s for the most part.
Napier had this to say regarding the OL:
Is there any movement with any of your second-team on the line, as you work to build some depth there? Is Wilson Norris, for example, getting some work at right guard?
Napier. "I think really the position that's up for battle is the right tackle position. You've got Lambert and Walker really battling it out over there at right tackle. The rest of it is pretty well grooved in. Freeman is going to earn his opportunity to be the next inside guy. We're looking forward to seeing how that starting job at right tackle will sort out. Lambert has had the better of that the last two days. We're looking for that consistency and a physical nature from Lambert and Walker. Lambert is extremely talented, physically. We're looking for that light bulb to come on with him, and it has the last two days. So you've got two formidable guys over there battling it out."
Jamie Harper has shown considerable ability so far in camp, and Dabo had this to say about his progress this fall:
"He has just matured. He understands what it's about now. He has worked. He came in here last year and was the third guy and knew he was the third guy. I think he just got fat and happy and settled into his role. I didn't think he had that hunger."
A little snippet from his comments is that he is not sure how much of a role he will have this year, as the coaches have told him they plan to ride CJ as much as they can (hallelujah!).
"Really and truly, they haven't really set in stone yet as far as what they have in mind for me," he said. "But whatever they have, I'm ready to roll."
Rendrick Taylor, whose official position is called "J-back" (for Joker) in the offense has been lining up pretty much everywhere: TE, FB, and RB. He's gained yards rushing in every scrimmage, usually similar yardage to Harper, and for the most part says he's lined up at RB. I think we're going to see him more as a runner, because he just doesnt have the first step that the other TEs do, they say. He'll be in there as a blocker beside CJ in a two-back shotgun, a la Dantzler days. Swinney says he's had his best camp ever, now lets see it on the field Rendrick.
Just to scare everyone, he did have a slight pull of his hamstring.
Jacoby Ford, was back at practice Monday night, a stadium workout, but did not participate in Tuesday's scrimmage. He's expected to be fine by MTSU. LW asked Ford if these injuries were frustrating and not getting better.
"Nah. It's encouraging, because it's getting a lot better. Now, if it was the same state as it was last week, then I'd probably be a little worried. But it's gotten a lot better, and I'm starting to run a lot faster on it. So I think I'll be ready by the game."
Its pretty much locked down that Xavier Dye will take A. Kelly's position, with Terrance Ashe taking the slot, but Ashe is being pushed hard by Jaron Brown. The final 4th position is still up in the air.
Dabo: "I'm telling you what, Jaron Brown is going to be some type of dynamite football player at Clemson. It's starting to click for him. He has made a bunch of plays in camp. He's a long way away from where he was as a freshman. He took advantage of his red-shirt. I think he will be a Derrick Hamilton kind of player, just watching him. He's got better ball skills than Derrick."
But, drops have been a major problem.
By all accounts, the TE position is really being used more this fall. Palmer, Barry, and D. Allen have all been catching passes. It seems that we're actually going to throw to a TE more than once per game.
Billy Napier had a few comments to the Media after the scrimmage:
Dabo said you're about to start pairing down (personnel) and hone in on who you're going to go with.
Napier. "Today we played with four scholarship wide receivers. We've got some guys who have been injured and some green jersey guys. That position wouldn't be one that I'd say we've had a chance to pair down. It's already paired down. We've got who we've got. Our front guys, we've done some experimental things with that second group, trying to find our best lineup. As that has unfolded, that has really helped us put ourselves in a position to make some decisions. Today we played pretty much the lineup with the first and second group. Still, we're just looking for that third best inside guy, that third tackle, those seven or eight guys that you can depend on who are accountable and will sell out for their teammates. And I think we've got that. We're just looking at who will start at right tackle. We've got a really talented tight end bunch. We've got several guys there who could play. And our running back position is really talented. For us, it's about getting these green receivers and a green quarterback ready to go, and honing in on who that right tackle is going to be."
You said at the start of spring drills you wanted to make a commitment to a more up-tempo practice day in and day out. Talk about how your offense has adjusted to that and the advantages you get from that.
Napier. "Yes. Today I won't say where we were snapping the ball in reference to the 40-second clock, but it was where we wanted it to be. It has an effect on the defense. Our defensive guys will tell you. If we can stay in the same personnel grouping and force the issue, snap the ball in that range we want to get it snapped, then that limits substitution on their part and it keeps their front guys on the field. That's really an emphasis there, just creating a competitive advantage, dictating the tempo to the defense."
You're watching film of practices every night. As you evaluate where you are now, why is your offense better today than August 4, the start of fall camp?
Napier. "I think we're probably a more physical team. We're practicing against a really good front and a really well-coached defense. Our guys are playing with good fundamentals. We've seen consistent improvement from our front guys. And the thing that I see is the work from the summer with our skill guys has carried over into the camp. We still have some guys who may have a bad day after a string of good days. And that comes with camp and from being a little bit leg-tired. But for the most part I think it has just been the competitive atmosphere and the snaps and the situations we've put our players in."
Notes on offense
-Brandon Thomas (RT) is still headed for a RS. Its the best for him because of his knee. Bryce McNeal, Tajh Boyd, Rod McDowell, Darrell Smith all will RS as well.
-Hairston suffered a slight muscle pull (neck) but is fine. Swinney calls him the "CJ Spiller of the front."
-Ellington, M. Palmer, and Jacoby are still nursing minor injuries.