Position: Right tackle
Hometown: Goose Creek
Last year: Started the opener at left tackle and the final nine games at right tackle.
To help college football fans get through the dog days of summer before conference media days launch the preseason festivities in mid-July, The Post and Courier is counting down the 12 most important South Carolina Gamecocks and 12 most important Clemson Tigers for 2013. The series continues today with No. 9 for each team and will conclude with the No. 1 players on July 7.
Position: Offensive lineman
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.
SOUTH CAROLINA’S No. 9
BRANDON SHELL, SOPHOMORE, RIGHT TACKLE
The Goose Creek High graduate began 2012 as the starting left tackle, and spent just one game there before being removed from the starting lineup for three games, returning as the starting right tackle in Week 4 and spending the rest of the season in that role.
Shell will be a third-year sophomore in 2013, and this is the season when he can show significant progress. He has all the physical tools. He is 6-6 and 321 pounds, with the long reach required of elite tackles. Coming out of high school, he was the No. 4 tackle nationally in his class and the No. 66 overall recruit, according to Rivals.
Pass blocking has been an adjustment for him in college, because Goose Creek primarily ran the ball. Moreover, offensive line coach Shawn Elliott determined early last season that Shell was more comfortable playing right tackle than left tackle, the protector of a right-handed quarterback’s blind side (and both Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson are righties). Shell was always a right tackle, until last season. So he is just more comfortable on the right side.
After the first three weeks of 2012, the previously rarely used Corey Robinson started every game but one at left tackle. He will be a junior in 2013. Robinson is a fine player, but there is no doubt that Shell has more upside.
If Robinson can hold up on the left side, and Shell is able to stay at home on the right side and continue to develop as a pass blocker, the Gamecocks stand a chance to improve their pass protection – a critical storyline to watch this season. Last season, they ranked 110th of 124 teams nationally with 38 sacks allowed.
COMING SUNDAY: Gamecocks’ No. 8 most important player.
CLEMSON’S No. 9
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.
You 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.
COMING SUNDAY: Tigers’ No. 8 most important player.