Like many Clemson fans, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said he is “anxious” to see how his offensive and defensive linemen perform in the spring game at 4 p.m. today at Memorial Stadium.
Clemson replaces three starters from both its offensive and defensive lines, and the spring game will mark the first time the public gets a look at the new lines, which could determine the program’s fortunes in 2012.
While both lines are inexperienced, even more youth resides on the offensive front’s two-deep depth chart. Through 14 spring practices, Swinney said his young offensive line has made the most progress of any positional group.
“That’s an area where we’ve had a lot of concern coming into spring practice,” Swinney said. “We feel like we’ve recruited well and have good players, (but) you graduate three experienced starters, it’s a little cause for concern.”
Swinney said converted defensive tackle Tyler Shatley “has been tremendous” this spring at right guard.
Swinney said he is pleased with the performance of Gifford Timothy at right tackle. The staff has seen Kalon Davis get in better shape and emerge at left guard. Dalton Freeman is a potential all-conference selection at center, and perhaps no player has grown more than left tackle Brandon Thomas.
Thomas said earlier this spring the staff liked him better at left guard, but with freshman tackle Isaiah Battle not ready for a starting assignment, Thomas projects to be responsible for protecting Tajh Boyd’s blind-side when the season opens.
“Thomas is practicing like a guy who wants to be a great, great player,” Swinney said, “he has a lot of fire in his belly now. His whole demeanor, body language and swagger is so different from a where it was last year.”
Offensive coordinator Chad Morris notes it is those five players who surfaced early in camp as the first-team offensive line and have remained there at the close of spring.
Still, Swinney notes he is encouraged with freshmen like Battle, Joe Gore, Jay Guillermo and Patrick Destefano, who all enrolled early and could be the Tigers’ line of the future. Clemson fans will get a sneak preview of that future in the spring game.
“We are going to have a lot of guys play a lot of snaps,” Swinney said. “I just want to see them be crisp in execution and not be sloppy. We are not asking them to do a lot, so the execution should be high.”
Clemson’s spring game will be broadcast on ESPN3 at 4 p.m. in areas where it is available and Comcast Sports Southeast at 7 p.m.