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Clemson Football Season Preview: Offensive Line

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Here we will look at how the 2014 Clemson offensive line unit shapes up for the season.

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

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Losses

So the O-line loses arguably our best offensive lineman in the past decade (there are some other good ones, but I'm basing this off draft position) in Brandon Thomas. We also lose Tyler Shately to graduation, but that could be a blessing in disguise as Ol' Stone Feet wasn't near Brandon Thomas's caliber. Additional losses include Patrick DeStefano and Gif Timothy, but since these losses were early last year, it doesn’t really mean we lose much from the on the field product that we saw towards the end of last season. We recently found out that Shaq Anthony is transferring out of the program.

As far as the effect these losses have on the current season though, it affects us in two ways. The most important being depth at tackle, a point which you will probably hear me groan a lot about this year, especially if things go South on the injury front. Secondly, it will affect how we pass block and how we run scheme. Our right side will greatly depend on how well Joe Gore takes to the spot. If he struggles, it will be a LONG season. The loss of Shately opens up a lot of different guard combos, most of which will probably serve to be more athletic than our departed cinder block. In other words, a more athletic interior but with a slimmer depth at tackle this year with  a potential for a right tackle that resembles a turn style.

Gains

The past Tiger recruiting class gains two players to the offensive line in Justin Falcinelli and Taylor Hearn. Both of these guys are tweener guys that I am not wild about and that’s mostly due to the fact that they match the mold of our current crop of linemen. What does that mean? That means that they are probably guards in the future but will attempt to be put out at tackle at some point too (a la Kalon Davis, Eric Mac Lain, Reid Webster, and Oliver Jones). It’s not to say that these guys can’t be good players for us, but they are both VERY raw with their pass blocking skill set. Now if we progress to a year from now I will be writing a love letter to the current class we have shaping up for the line (knock on wood). But let’s take a little close look at each of our new hogs.

Falcinelli hails from Middletown, Maryland and was rated a 3-star by most recruiting services. He checks in at 6’4’’ 300 pounds and he seems to carry the weight ok, but definitely has room to fill out his frame better. He played both DT and OT for his high school team. On defense he did show some ability to get up field and make some stops but we have recruited him to be a future offensive lineman.

Hearn came to Clemson from Williston, SC and was also rated as a 3-star prospect by most recruiting services. He is 6’3’’ 305 pounds and is known as quite a talented run blocker. He projects definitely as a RG in my book. He played on both sides of the ball in high school and was also another position that I’ll let you guess in the comments. If you don’t guess then I’ll just tell you later so you can use the nifty fact on the ladies. He was also a baseball player in high school which leads me to believe that he has somewhat better athleticism than a typical guard prospect.

Returning Players

This year’s edition of the Clemson offense will feature the fine gentlemen listed in the table above. (Note that the table was put together before the news regarding Anthony) In the table, you can see first the positions he has played in the past, year of the player, the number of games he appeared in 2013, the number of games started, the number of snaps logged, and then finally the number of knockdown blocks he earned throughout the season. You can see that we have a lot of redshirt juniors and seniors with this group (albeit some have the body of freshmen still, looking at you Shaq Anthony). So let’s review these guys one by one shall we?

Shaq Anthony. Oops. Next.

Isaiah Battle is a very mean man. Almost too mean (see 4th quarter vs NCSU). He is long, athletic, and plays with an edge. The coaches waited forever for his "light to turn on" and it finally did after his stint in the doghouse, although we're now waiting on him to add weight. He will be our anchor at LT and if he gets injured or suspended then we are in deep trouble. He has immense potential and if he can add weight and strength while keeping his athleticism, he could be a special player. He had the third most knockdowns last season and the second highest snaps per knockdown last season at 27.6 snaps/knockdown. I would definitely expect to see those numbers climb because Battle is a bad bad dude.

David Beasley is a guy who I could really enjoy seeing pulling and knocking someone’s head off. He has the potential to do it, it’s just a matter of him staying on the field for more than 6 plays at a time. If he has spent this offseason dedicated to getting into intense playing shape for our HUNH offense then I think that he has a chance to be a late round pick in the 2015 draft. I have always enjoyed his physicality but his main issue has always been conditioning (and apparently staying out of trouble too - he is suspended from the opener).

If there is a guy besides Wayne Gallman that I am excited to see strap on the pads as a redshirt freshman, it is Tyrone Crowder. He came to Clemson very overweight and was slated to redshirt due to his weight issues, otherwise, I think he plays last year. But I hate living in the past, I think this year could be his coming out party. He is strong as a bull ox. No, wait. Make that two bull oxen. The kid is a monster. But this year I expect Mr. Crowder to log very significant snaps in every ball game and provide us with excellent depth at guard.

Kalon Davis is a guy who the coaches have talked about since 2013 as a go to guy on the O-line. I never was really on the bandwagon for him, I thought he played with a high pad level and a bit too soft, but last year Kalon began to win me over. He's not the best on our line at any single aspect, but he is consistent in everything. He split starts with David Beasley last year at left guard and has a firm grip on right guard this year. The coaches have even talked about him being serviceable depth at right tackle, something that I am more than hesitant about seeing. But he apparently has gotten into the best shape of his career and is primed for a good senior season, hopefully we won't have to view him at RT in meaningful moments as hopefully Joe Gore will be our rock there. Kalon should be our leader up front. I would expect his snap totals to go up more this year from his 500 a year ago, and hopefully with that his knockdowns shall rise too.

The coaches have been raving about him this offseason and I have been eager to see him finally put it all together, and now that moment has arrived. Joe Gore is slated to be our RT this fall and I am anxiously optimistic to see him out there. In limited snaps last year (58), he logged 2 knockdowns (granted not against the best competition level). If we extrapolate that into a full season, that is 20 knockdowns by him roughly. Aint math and conjecture grand?! But I digress.....Joe has the ability to be a great compliment to Battle at tackle as he is long and athletic (formerly a DE). The two main issues with Gore is that he is not the heaviest tackle in the world and at times the coaches had said in the past that the game was too much for him mentally, but apparently those mental lapses have subsided and he is ready to be our guy. Overall I think as long as there is no injury to him (KNOCK ON WOOD NOW) and he can hold up mentally, Joe can be an upgrade at RT to what we saw at this point last season. Expect an all around increase from Joe's 2013 statistics, he is now our guy.

Jay Guillermo is a guy that can give you the ability to play some more unique lineups on the interior of our line. He is a true center and he will come in and log meaningful snaps this season a fair amount. With Guillermo in the game, we can sub-out either Norton directly, or we can slide Norton to a guard spot and allow Beasley or Davis to get some rest (and they may need it). Guillermo saw action in 8 games last year and while I don't recall him road grading out there, he definitely was not a liability. Definitely expect an increase from his 182 snaps he had last season.

Oliver Jones is listed as a guard and tackle officially by the team roster. Don't believe it. He's a guard all the way. To see this man in space would terrify me and not in the ways that Isaiah Battle terrifies me. He has only logged 24 snaps in his career in mop up duty and has been quite unmemorable in both what I have seen of him and what the coaches have said of him. Do the coaches know he is on the roster anymore? I am unsure, but hopefully, he can supply us some serviceable depth at both guard spots but currently he is our number 7 or 8 guard at best. Yikes. Maybe he can give some good looks on the scout team.

There once was a dream of having Eric Mac Lain play tackle. I personally was excited by the prospect. A former tight end with a large frame moving inside to become a tackle, well it has worked before with Phillip Price, let's try it again, and this time with a guy who got a scholly to be at Clemson. Well for reasons unknown for science, that experiment is failing and Eric has been nothing but a liability when put in space to block in pass protection. His footwork is slower than watching a droplet of pitch fall. (If you don't know what that is, look up pitch drop experiment, or don't. I don't care. I'm just trying to make you smarter.) Eric can be an effective run blocker at times though, so he has been tested at guard, but I am afraid that this could be another Tyler Shately show, where there is no foot quickness to be found, even if there were coals under his feet. If he can at least mirror a defensive tackle in pass pro, or just quick set and not worry about mirroring, then Eric can supply us with some solid depth at guard. Look for his snap totals to rise this year.

Maverick Morris. Here do we have the catalyst for Shaq Anthony leaving? Maybe Maverick was pushing Shaq as a second team RT? Well I don't know about that, but what I do know is that Maverick will definitely be able to push defenders off the line better than Shaq would (burn sucka). But really, Maverick's forte is run blocking, but we knew that when we recruited him. I am interested to see if a year on the scout team going against Shaq Lawson, Vic Beasley, Corey Crawford, and Tavaris Barnes have made him better at pass pro. I would like to think so, but Clemson often defies logic. Never the less, we will be relying on him to become serviceable at tackle quicker rather than later now.

Ryan Norton is once again our starting center and should pair with Kalon Davis to be our rock in the middle (well more like pebble since he is a bit lighter than I like). He had the most snaps and most knockdowns by far last year on the returning members of the team with 841 and 28 respectively. The next closest returner is Kalon Davis in both categories with 500 snaps and 14 knockdowns (although David Beasley had 14 knockdowns as well). I would expect his numbers to stay stagnant for the most part although he may play more guard this year if Kalon has to bump out to right tackle (God, please no). I would really like to see Ryan add 10 more pounds to avoid getting bullied around like he did at times last year (see Nikita Whitlock and Timmy Jerningan).  But the weight adding time has come and gone, maybe next year, right? Regardless, Norton will still be our snap leader again but the center to guard snap ratio won't favor center so much this season.

If the light has finally come on for Spencer Region, well, then it's about damn time. I would have cut him a long time ago. He came to Clemson as an ESPN Top 150 recruit out of Alabama and has just never panned out. He has never logged meaningful gametime and, of course, we all know has battled weight issues. If he has truly gotten that under control and he dedicated himself to this program then I am happy for him, but I only hope that his lack of experience on the field will not hinder his ability to give us solid depth as a swing guard. But damn, we have a lot of guards so depth really isn't an issue. Maybe he lost so much weight he fleet of foot and can play RT? Dare to dream Spencer, dare to dream.

And finally we come to Reid Webster. He has played all positions on the line albeit sparingly at each one. Most of his time has been played at guard but he is capable of sliding out to right tackle if needed or inside to center as well. He is a guy I am really counting on at tackle now that Mr. Anthony has elected to find greener pastures. Granted he isn't a left tackle, but he can probably be serviceable at RT. He has had most of his play limited to spot duty snaps so it will be interesting to see if this red-shirt senior has developed like a good program should develop their linemen.

So that's it. The moral of the story is that we have a ton of guards, not a lot of tackles, and if we get hit by the injury bug at tackle (especially Battle KNOCK ON WOOD NOW) then we are in trouble. I hope you enjoyed reading and go Tigers!