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Position Analysis: Offensive Line with Brad Scott and Danny Pearman

Brad Scott's musical chairs and poor recruiting along the offensive line has kept Clemson down the last few seasons.
Brad Scott's musical chairs and poor recruiting along the offensive line has kept Clemson down the last few seasons.

Now the review everyone is interested in.

I think most of us would agree that Clemson's offensive line did improve over last season's woeful performance. In pass blocking, they did a quite admirable job if you take the long view over the season. However, here we'll look at this season's performance in more depth, and evaluate the offensive line coaching. In the offseason, Dabo Swinney effectively admitted that the OL position needed supplemental coaching by hiring Danny Pearman to oversee the Tackles and TEs. We will not be evaluating the TE position specifically.

In 2009, Brad Scott was still "the" OL coach. If you watched any games, and paid attention on the sideline views, you'd see Brad on one knee explaining things to the seated linemen as a group. Pearman would be standing over his shoulder uttering a few words, if he was noticed, to the tackles or Mike Palmer. Pearman may be officially the Tackles/TE coach, but its Brad's group. Danny is just another set of eyes and another teacher in practice and his addition to the staff as Tackles coach (and not simply TE coach) is essentially an admission that the OL needs extra help. Brad approved their offers to Clemson when they were recruited and taught these guys from day one. Therefore, any blame or praise goes chiefly to him. Even Pearman's addition cannot be expected to reap rewards in year one; it takes more than one year to fix successive years of bad coaching.

How we evaluate Pearman and Scott

  • Recruiting
  • Passing sacks allowed and pass blocking
  • Rushing statistics and overall tenacity in run blocking

You know, I've always heard Brad Scott was a well-respected coach and was a great recruiter. He was brought in by Tommy after SC canned him as HC, His first job was TEs on Bowden's first staff with Rich Rodriguez, but we never threw to the TE. After RichRod left, following the 2000 season, Bowden promoted him to Offensive Coordinator because he had experience with it at FSU. He went on to be the most predictable coordinator I've ever known and in many games his offense would totally disappear (a Bowden trademark, in retrospect). Oh and we still didnt throw to the TE (the Tragedy of Ben Hall). In fact, I can only recall Hall as being a great recruit at TE who actually made it in school. Irvin Brisker was a 4-star in 2002, who never qualified and never played at Clemson. Phil Merling and Xavier Littleberry were TEs recruited as DL.

But then Brad was demoted for QB Coach Mike O'Cain to take over the offense in 2004, after Whitehurst had apparently come on to finish out 2003. I would think that if he was so well-respected that this would've never happened, and that if he wanted the job he'd be able to move elsewhere, but Brad was put on the OL before spring workouts in 2004 and has been there ever since. If I'm going to be hard on a coach, I'm going to look at the body of work he has put together, so now we'll look at Brad's record on the line.

In evaluating recruiting, I think its paramount to know how the staff works. As of now, the entire staff sees a prospect's film and decides to offer with the blessing of a position coach, and then the recruiter assigned to that prospect's area/state goes and builds a relationship. A position coach does not always recruit his position. This is how you end up hearing about Dan Brooks talking to Justin Parker when Steele is the position coach: Beaufort is in Brooks' area. Its the same reason Charlie Harbison recruited David Beasley. Eventually the position coach will get involved however, and he and the Coordinator approve every offer that goes out. This is not how the staff has always worked though, and some linemen we have signed were not offered by Brad Scott. Everyone who we have signed since 2005 have been under him though.

Brad's recruiting area has been a large segment of SW FL and the area immediately surrounding Clemson. This year he is listed as the recruiter of record for Martavis Bryant and LB Jake Nicolopulos, both from TL Hanna. My opinion is that if you can't get a kid from Anderson, then he doesnt want to be anywhere near home. He has recruited (likely 3/4 star) Shaq Anthony for 2011 from our backyard, and a legacy commit, as his dad Vernie played for Danny Ford. He's listed as the recruiter of record for 5-star OT Robert Crisp, who committed to NCSU, though Andre Powell officially has the Triangle area around Raleigh. Crisp camped at Clemson and at one time was highly impressed, but we disappeared off his list, and appear to have never really been in it. He was also the recruiter for OL Dan Koenig from Cape Coral FL, but I can find no record that Clemson was ever really in it. That is all for this year.

Why? If Brad Scott is a phenomenal recruiter, why does he not have a full plate of prospects in Florida or even Georgia to go after? I look through the rivals and scout archives and I see relatively few mentions of Brad Scott for any recruit in this cycle. He doesn't even go to Atlanta to recruit Beasley until late in the process. If he's not looking at other prospects, what the hell is he doing?

In 2009, he landed JK Jay from Greenville and missed out on several prospects including OL J. Schofield (with Ron West - Aiken-Tennessee), Bobby Massie (with Powell - Hargrave - Ole Miss), Lonnie Pryor (FSU) and Ben Axon. If he was a great recruiter, would he only be able to land the kid from our backyard out of a long list of prospects?

In 2008, he did a good job in recruiting. He landed Freeman, Marquan Jones, and Kenneth Page for the line. Matt Sanders was a Koenning recruit. It turns out in the end that Page was a guy who had only a couple commitable offers to choose from (ND, UNC) and picked Clemson, most everyone else retracted their offers.

In 2007, he got Mason Cloy, Jarvis Jenkins, and Wilson Norris as linemen. Another good job. 2006 he got Hairston, and in 2005 Thomas Austin.

I'm beginning to see a trend, he travels less as each year goes by, and doesnt do a great job of selling the program to anyone out of state. I would think that if Brad was respected as a great recruiter, as TardNet's cult would have you believe, he'd be 1.) given more prospects, 2.) given high profile prospects, and 3.) be able to get kids from out of state more frequently. Am I being unreasonable?

The other key point that others will make for Brad and his recruiting is his (believed) presence in the state of Florida. You always hear (and read) morons observers out there talk about how Brad has pulled this player or that player out of the Sunshine state and that Brad is just short of a deity down there. A look at Clemson's presence in the state in the 2010 class leads us to believe otherwise. While we all know that Dabo has adjusted his Nation of Florida recruiting strategy to Georgia, if Scott has so many connections down there and can pull in boatloads of talent, why is the only Floridian we signed this season a late Jeff Scott steal from FSU (Barnes)?

On the other hand, Danny Pearman is not known for being a recruiter. His background rarely ever communicates great successes as a recruiter. However, he was the recruiter for Tajh Boyd in 2009 (with Napier), since Tajh was from the Tidewater area of VIrginia, which along with a portion of NC is Pearman's zone. This year he landed Josh Watson, and if not for Laurence Gibson's mother, we might still have him. We lost out on David Amerson and Ed Christian under Pearman's watch. In 2011, Pearman has a long list of prospects to recruit, such as Top QB prospects Christian LeMay and Everett Golson, legacy TE Jay Rome, DE J. Pagan, and RB Shon Carson.

I'm having trouble here, if my OL coach is the great recruiter everyone says he is, why would I not reassign some regions to him so that he is the one going after the best players? Why doesnt Brad even recruit a more talent-laden portion of S.C.?

Hits and Misses in recruiting evaluation

Offensive linemen are the one position that are the toughest for a coach to evaluate in HS. Sometimes a guy could just be big in HS and not really be all that great. Sometimes his quickness is deceptive against weak defensive competition. Sometimes he could have everything physically and just be a wimp, like Lambert. Going back the last 4 years, we looked at what we brought in and what the star ratings lend expectation-wise. Cris Ard gives his thoughts in a Q&A here.

From Cris' comments, Ruffin is likely the only one that may not have been brought in. I'm sure Cory Lambert would've been a flat miss anywhere he signed, and he could've signed anywhere. He just lacks the fire of a Nathan Bennett, which frankly I think all our linemen are missing. Perhaps under another OL coach, or 4 years of Pearman, he'd have become meaner and a great one, but thats pure speculation. All I know is that Lambert never did anything here, despite having all the physical gifts necessary for a Tackle.

Also notice the numbers that have been brought in. Linemen, being so hard to evaluate and so oft injured, should be brought in more. Even if you have to take a few extra non blue-chippers, then a minimum of 4 should be brought every season. A smaller recruiting offer board has contributed to this. Scott brings in Tackles and moves them all to Guard because they dont develop as Tackles. He brings in Guards and they get moved to Center. Thats the coach's fault: he has to motivate the player to improve and the strength/conditioning coaches must keep a Tackle more athletic and in better shape than a Guard. These items have turned the OL depth chart into one big game of Twister with most every player being moved around in the middle of the season.

Who has been a miss under Brad's watch? Grant, Lambert, Medlin (before injury), are definite misses in evaluation.

A hit? Hairston was a late offer and is a hit, Austin had developed until this year, but the rest are still "maybes". JK Jay definitely was a hit, which sucks now that he's gone. I personally think Freeman is, Cloy is, and Walker could be if he'd get meaner. I dont know about Brandon Thomas yet but the staff thinks he will be.


2010 Clemson Scholarship OL Depth Chart
Sr JR Soph Freshman
Chris Hairston* (LT)

Landon Walker* (RT)

Mason Cloy* (LG)

Matt Sanders* (G/C) Brandon Thomas* (LT)
Ben Ramsey* (C)

David Smith* (RT)

Wilson Norris* (G)

Dalton Freeman* (C)

Reid Webster (T)

David Beasley (G)

Kalon Davis (G)

Antoine McClain (RG)

Phillip Price* (T/TE)

Gifford Timothy (T)

I have intentionally left off several walk-ons that won't ever see playing time. Price was added to the scholarship list last summer, is up to 280, and will backup Walker. Thomas should be 2-LT.

The first team at OL going into spring will be Hairston, Smith, Freeman, McClain, and Walker according to Scott, with Cloy out. I would rather move Norris over to 1st team LG instead of Smith, who I would rather rep at 2-RT to push Walker and prevent him from taking another Spring off. Typical musical chairs from Scott, and we can expect Smith to make few strides as a result. 2nd Team would then be Thomas, Sanders/Ramsey, Sanders/Ramsey, Norris, and Price in Spring. Kalon Davis will likely figure in the 2nd team rotation in spring.


"Landon came on for us last year and I guess was much improved by the end of the year. I look for him to obviously develop this spring. He needs to have a good, solid spring to solidify a spot there.

"We're going to move Phillip Price there to give him a shot to compete with Landon on the right side. Coach Scott just went over moving David Smith to left guard with y'all. We made that move knowing that we can move David back to tackle if we need to. But I like what I've seen from Landon and what he's brought to the table. He's practiced harder. His off-season training has been much-improved."

"We're moving Brandon Thomas out to left tackle. That's just a starting point. That's not set in stone as far as how spring is going to go. We're putting people in a position to compete for jobs. Every job is kind of up for discussion. How they perform this spring is up to them."

Pass Blocking

This graphic via Tomahawk Nation shows that Clemson was one of the better pass blocking teams in the ACC this year.

Aside from the first half against Georgia Tech's Derrick Morgan on Thursday night, I thought our line did a good job as a whole protecting Kyle Parker. We handled quick linemen in Miami that I felt would run right by some of our guys, though I do recall Hairston getting left behind a couple times. TCU All-American Jerry Hughes was handled well, much to everyone's surprise. In 2008, it was more up & down due to various injuries and poor depth, but we did improve this year a good deal.

Landon Walker does a good job overall of pass protection at RT, as does Hairston at LT. Both can be beaten by quick moves and stunting, but Walker seems to be beaten inside less. Hairston at times did get outmaneuvered by quick ends. Credit goes to Pearman and Scott here. Lambert is terrible and doesnt move his feet. I'm still lost as to how Lambert beat Walker in August, but after Maryland I certainly noticed Lambert making fewer mistakes because he was playing less behind Hairston, and David Smith became more of a factor on the right side.

Interior linemen are less about pass protection, but of all that stand out, its McClain that gets whipped the most often because he stops moving his feet and loses leverage. Norris is similarly weak at it. When Freeman was moved to starting Center, I feel like Cloy should've been starting at RG. I believe he's the more experienced player and should've been given the nod. McClain does have a lot of upside if he can ever figure it out though.

But we approve of the job the players and coaches did in improving pass protection as a whole.

Run Blocking

Probably the most subjective evaluation of any position on the field is the ability to run block. Brad Scott says a grade of "75% is winning football". Thats a direct quote from Brad early last season. Thats awful, 75% = 7-5/8-4 seasons. In our opinion, the grade for winning football should be at least 85%. Bear in mind this score usually counts run + pass plays, but since we've evaluated the pass blocking as generally very good, and since we rarely throw north of 20 plays per game, the bulk of the missed assignments are coming in run blocking.

Now, you might say, "well CJ has over 1000 yards, and Andre and Harper get high YPC" and you would be right. We even got around 7 yards per carry since the open date. When I evaluate a lineman I keep in mind what the team is getting on the ground in each game, and the plays that racked up those yards.

CJ Spiller is a special talent. A crease and open space = 50 yard gains. If you take out CJ's monster runs then how do we average? Also look where the plays are designed to go on paper, and where they actually end up. The big question you have to ask yourself is whether the yardage was created by the OL creating holes, by the back utilizing great athletic ability, or both (we obviously hope for the last option). Often times we saw the pure talent of the back overcome some insufficiencies at the point of attack by the big men up front. We also were extremely disappointed with the minimal amount of push Clemson got week in and week out.

An Iso or Power O play is designed for a specific hole. Now no one expects it to go to that hole every time, because a good defense will force your RB to have vision and change direction, but its meant to go somewhere by design. As we ran more and more of these base-blocking plays, mostly after Boston College, our run blocking this season did improve. Linemen rarely have to think on this particular play, they count and base block (straight man/man). A Power O is when the backside guard pulls and the RB follows him, and usually its Austin pulling, but 80% of the time CJ or Ellington would have to cut the run back to the left because the right side never moved anybody or Austin never got into the hole.

I guarantee you this lack of quickness is a large factor as to why Austin isn't being invited to the NFL Combine.

Here is the Power O run correctly late this season. as well as the Iso.

On zone plays, we rarely got it right this year. Rarely anyone was moved out of the way and rather few holes were created. You'd see gains of 2, 2, 3, 2, 50 by CJ or Ellington, moreso on outside stretch plays or cuts off-tackle. Inside zones rarely succeeded. Zone blocking requires better teaching and more repetition to perfect. Since 2006, when injuries cost us our best against Virginia Tech, we have not zone blocked consistently well at all. The kicker is that zone plays are a base component of our offense and essentially all spread offenses. Shotgun runs and most single-back sets run zones. Without a blocking TE next year, we may be running much more of these next season.

What I generally saw on the front was the left side of the line moving people out of the way, while the right side stood still. How many times did you see Hairston and Austin push someone over in front of McClain, and have the RB cut back into the huge hole that remained? (and no, they werent all Counter) Did you see McClain and Walker doing the opposite? No, you didnt.

Did you see the Clemson line blow a tiny MTSU DL 5 yards off the ball? No.

What about a GT front (other than Morgan) that was totally depleted and very young inside? Not in game 1. CJ's long runs were outside in game 2 (most long runs are, to be fair).

What about a BC front that lost their 2 best linemen to the NFL? Nope.

Did we even destroy Coastal up front?

Did you ever get the impression that Clemson's offensive line manhandled another team up front from the opening snap? They would sometimes come alive in the 2nd half, but that wasn't every week, and you can throw the FSU game out because thats one of the worst defenses in major college football.

Rushing stats are a factor, but can be misleading when you realize that you have a once-in-a-century talent at RB.

Everytime I thought I saw Antoine McClain take a step ahead and become a mauler, he'd blow two assignments. Thomas Austin was always solid as a run-blocker, and this year improved in pass protection, and moves fairly well for the most part, but he never took the next step to realize his potential. He continually got stood up at the line and was slow getting into holes when he pulled.

Chris Hairston, if he wants to play in the NFL, needs to get that spare tire off his belly and get some more muscle. He must improve his quickness. Nobody expects a lineman to be chiseled, but that jello has to go. Mike Detillier of M&D Draft Report, agrees:

"He should come back (for his senior season), no question about it. He shows a lot of ability as a football player. But when you're not going to get an early-round grade, you've got to come back and get yourself in the best shape you can be in and technically be as strong as you can be. This is the NFL. They don't have time to redshirt you."

The Verdict - With Cloy out with a broken leg until Summer, we are going to need someone to step up to play LG in Spring. I'm not confident Brad Scott will do any better with a younger guy than he has been molding the last series of linemen into NFL players, and his musical chairs at LG this spring will end up hurting us in the long-run I'm betting. Did you realize Brad has never had an OL drafted higher than the 4th round? Why does everyone tell you that "oh hes a well respected coach and would have a job in 20 minutes if Clemson fired him" ?

I can respect someone as a good man, he's probably a great father, but his track record in coaching is a different story. His track record in recruiting is middling at best and shows a downward trend. People want to blame everything on Spence's offense, and a lot of blame should go his way, but those people fail to understand (or point out to you, if they think you dont know football) that Spence ran the same zone plays we still run, and the only thing we've run this year is a 3-pt stance and some more base blocking down the stretch. Without another true blocking TE, and with Diehl likely forced into that role, you'll see more zone plays next season because he wont be in there at Fullback.

We dont think Brad can do it, and its time for a change.

Brad Scott must go.

In our opinion, Pearman should be given TEs, could continue to help on the OL, and should be given Special Teams.

If you think Brad Scott should stay or go, we want to hear your reasoning. We encourage you to use this article and display it on Tiger message boards because I'm sure most of you want this man gone.

Who would we replace him with if it were our choice? Robbie Caldwell.