Clemson University

Humphries at center of Tigers' issues

CLEMSON -- Upon recording his 38th and final bench press repetition during team testing, Clemson center Barry Humphries hopped off the bench with mock gusto.

The exact words Humphries barked have slipped his memory, but it was to the effect of "NFL Combine, here I come!"

Still, "I don't necessarily agree with how the Combine goes," Humphries said. "It's what you do on the field."

Before Humphries puts the cart before the horse, he understands he must first prove he can power Clemson's offense.

The 6-foot-2, 300-pound redshirt sophomore from Anderson has yet to take a snap as the Tigers' starting center, which is why coaches repeatedly list his potential growing pains among the chief preseason concerns.

With rookie full-time starters at right guard and right tackle, Clemson can ill afford to have its weak link at center. That the Tigers open Sept. 3 hosting Florida State has elevated the sense of urgency for ensuring Humphries will be dependable.

Humphries appeared to have rough moments in spring scrimmages, but after the first week of fall camp, the staff seems pleased with his progress.

The most telling indication might be that highly regarded sophomore Thomas Austin -- the leading candidate to switch to center -- has remained at left guard and is competing with senior Brandon Pilgrim for playing time instead.

Ben Ramsey, a former walk-on, is listed as the backup.

"Of the new guys, Humphries has probably done the best so far this camp," line coach Brad Scott said. "He's been pretty sound with his assignments. He's had a good offseason on and off the field. I'm beginning to have a little more confidence in him. He's had to prove himself to me, and he's doing a pretty good job of that right now."

When Humphries inherited the starting spot from two-year starter Dustin Fry, he had nothing to prove physically.

Humphries had already earned the reputation as a weight-room brute, cemented by a spring in which he posted the team's best bench press (460 pounds), squat (635) and series of bench presses at 225 pounds (38).

The latter would have ranked second among line prospects at the NFL Combine and the third-most in program history, four below Fry. Humphries also claims to run a 4.9-second 40-yard dash, which he said is important because Clemson has incorporated several plays this fall that require the center to pull.

"Ever since I was a freshman in high school, I've taken weight training a little bit more serious than everybody else," said Humphries, who played tackle and guard at Belton-Honea Path. "I just wanted to be the strongest. It worked in high school and now here."

Before practices, Humphries and the rest of the linemen watch film, dissecting various schemes an opposing defensive front may use.

The center's role during games is to make a quick read and yell out what he sees. The linemen on both of his sides determine their assignments and if switches need to be made, those are relayed down the line.

Humphries therefore must process a large amount visually in an instant. Then he must execute the snap and block defenders depending on a pass or run play.

Until Humphries displays the ability to accomplish these tasks, he figures questions about his abilities will linger.

"In the spring, I don't think I struggled because everybody has to learn things at some point," Humphries said.

"It's all mental. If I have the chance to knock somebody out, I'll take it. But at the same time, I have to make sure I'm doing the right thing, not just running around to hunt somebody down."