Practice notes: Clemson honing in on firm five up front; Leggett suffers knee injury

Offensive line_mini

BY AARON BRENNER | abrenner@postandcourier.com
@Aaron_Brenner

CLEMSON – If Georgia was coming to Death Valley today, Clemson’s got a good feel of who run out there at offensive line.

Individually, there has been some consternation at certain spots within the past week. But with 17 days to go before the opener, head coach Dabo Swinney sounded far more confident in his starting group.

And that group does not include Isaiah Battle, whom the coaches have practically begged to step into a starring role at left tackle.

“Battle’s not going to beat out Brandon Thomas,” Swinney said Wednesday at Memorial Stadium following a morning situational scrimmage. “I mean, that’s a pipe dream.”

So there’s that. But if Battle was at least one of Clemson’s best five offensive lineman, that would scooch all-ACC lineman Brandon Thomas over one spot to left guard.

“In Battle’s situation, he’s not there yet, but at some point, hopefully the light comes on, and he’s one of those five, maybe he’s better than one of our other guys, then we’ve got flexibility,” Swinney said. “We don’t have a lot of flexibility with Isaiah – he’s going to play one spot, and that’s tackle.”

So Thomas is locked in at left tackle against the Bulldogs, right?

“Oh, yeah. Yeah. Unless something drastic changes, he’s the guy that gives us the best chance to win,” Swinney said. “That’s not going to change in the next couple of weeks.”

Plan B doesn’t look good either, for one reason. He stands 6-foot-4 tall and weighs 315 pounds and has a new nickname.

“David Beasley has had a great camp,” Swinney said, with enthusiasm. “If you had asked me that before camp, I’d have said it’s a real hot fire at left guard. But I tell you what: I think (offensive line coach) Robbie (Caldwell) changed his name from the Ugly Duckling to the Sexy Swan. You never know what Robbie’s going to say.”

After reporters stopped chuckling, Swinney outlined how Beasley’s been “the most pleasant surprise of camp,” and the best camp overall on the line outside of entrenched right guard Tyler Shatley.

“We didn’t know if he was going to be fully committed. We’re most pleased with him and his performance and his mental preparation,” Swinney said. “He has been very, very focused, and he’s made very few mental mistakes.

“And physically, he’s a train. Very strong, hard to get around. If he gets his hands on you, it’s over. He’s pushed through conditioning from a fatigue standpoint.”

On the other side of the line, Gifford Timothy’s hanging on to right tackle for now. Eric Mac Lain, Joe Gore and Shaq Anthony are in the mix as backups.

“Giff is probably the guy who I’m not displeased with. I trust Giff. We all trust him,” Swinney said. “But he’s probably the guy that needs some fire under him.”

Finally, the center position. The most important cog on the line, and the saga of inconsistent shotgun snaps continues with Ryan Norton and Jay Guillermo.

“We’ve been a little inconsistent with our snaps,” Swinney said. “Not bad, but just not the perfection that we’re looking for.”

The Tigers would like to have a firm five in place when game preparation for Georgia begins Aug. 22 – nine days before the showdown.

“Obviously an opener like this, a game like this, you’re gonna put your best foot forward,” Swinney said. “We’ve got to really dial in on who we want to go to battle with, and who we think is really ready, that we can trust.”

Leggett goes down: Promising freshman tight end Jordan Leggett was carted off from Wednesday’s scrimmage, after catching a pass and getting tackled. He went off to get his knee checked out, and details should follow today or tomorrow.

“Hopefully, it’s not bad,” Swinney said. “It didn’t look good on the field.”

-AB

Counting down Clemson’s most valuable players in 2013: No. 9 RT Gifford Timothy

Timothy.RB_miniBY AARON BRENNER AND DARRYL SLATER
abrenner@postandcourier.com and dslater@postandcourier.com

To help get you through college football’s slow days of late June and early July — before conference media days launch the preseason festivities — we’re counting down the 12 most important South Carolina Gamecocks and 12 most important Clemson Tigers for 2013. One Gamecock and one Tiger every day, so you can spend part of your summer studying the players who will make a difference for your team come autumn. 

CLEMSON’S NO. 9 MOST VALUABLE PLAYER:
GIFFORD TIMOTHY, JUNIOR, OFFENSIVE LINEMAN

Interesting statistic from the Clemson football files: the squad has won 76 percent of its games in years with at least four returning offensive line starters. (The program has won 57 percent of its overall games, for perspective.) Seeing as Brandon Thomas and Gifford Timothy return at the tackles, and David Beasley and Tyler Shatley are back at guard, that could give the Tigers their complete starting lineup sans center Dalton Freeman from the entire ACC slate and Chick-fil-A Bowl. There’s still some competition to sort out – does Kalon Davis take over from Beasley at left guard? Does Isaiah Battle factor in at some point? – but continuity and chemistry are everything to coach Robbie Caldwell’s big uglies.

TimothyGiffordYou know what you’re getting out of Thomas: an All-American effort from a guy who if healthy will keep Tajh Boyd’s backside clean. The real fear for opponents is if a second dominant tackle emerges. (Remember when Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews resembled a shark-infested moat around some guy named Johnny Manziel?) Now, when Thomas got hurt in the first quarter of the bowl game, Battle held his own against LSU’s first-round NFL defensive end talents. So the onus is on Timothy to keep Battle just where he is: a hot prospect in waiting.
-Aaron Brenner

GIFFORD TIMOTHY
Position: Offensive lineman
Year: Junior
Height/weight: 6-6/310
Hometown: Middletown, Del.
Last year: Made 11 starts at right tackle, missed Furman game in week three and left Chick-Fil-A Bowl with injury

Previously: No. 12 Jr. DT Grady Jarrett, No. 11 Jr. LB Stephone Anthony, No. 10 Fr. TE Jordan Leggett
COMING SUNDAY: No. 8