CLEMSON - A year older and a year wiser, the eternal work-in-progress Isaiah Battle sounds like a changed man.
Long pegged the left tackle of the future - now the present - Battle speaks as if he's finally ready to lead the Clemson offensive line. Thing is, he's got far more important tasks involving his mouth in this offseason's closing weeks.
"After I leave here," Battle told local reporters after practice Saturday evening, "you'll see me with three plates (of food). At least three plates. Nothing less, whatever they have for dinner. Lot of carbs, protein, a lot of meat."
And when he goes home, every kid's favorite snack. Times three.
"I eat three peanut butter and jellies a night," Battle said. "Just try to stay consistently eating and adding on my diet."
Battle is 6-7, the tallest Tiger on the roster, and currently weighs 288 pounds, which is beefy for his height but not quite the brick wall Clemson needs to protect the blind sides of right-handed quarterbacks Cole Stoudt and Deshaun Watson.
"He's got to be more dedicated in the nutrition part of it," offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell said. "He's still a strong, powerful guy."
Brandon Thomas, Battle's predecessor, was four inches shorter than Battle, but weighed 315 pounds. That's Battle's target mark in the minds of his coaches, but in the third-year junior's mind, Battle would love 297: the heaviest he's ever been.
It's hard for Battle to put on weight, especially in the heat of summer, since he's got a fast metabolism. So he'll keep piling on the plates for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
"I try not to eat bad foods, like McDonald's, fast food," Battle said. "The NCAA passing (a new unlimited meals provision) has really helped. That was the best decision they ever made, so I'm going to take advantage of that."
Battle also may take advantage of starting the final four games of 2013 at right tackle, which makes him the most experienced tackle the Tigers have to offer.
"Most football teams are made up of a bunch of good players - then you have a few special talents, and (Battle's) one of those guys," head coach Dabo Swinney said. "Sure would help us if we were able to count on him week in and week out."
Thomas is graduated and gone to the NFL, while Gifford Timothy and Patrick DeStefano have retired due to injury (now serving as student-coaches), so there's not much edge depth behind Battle.
Junior Shaq Anthony started three games at right tackle last year, but he lost his job with uneven play and will serve a one-game suspension in the 2014 opener at Georgia for an undisclosed violation of team rules last spring. Junior Joe Gore seems the favorite to start at right tackle, though junior Eric Mac Lain, redshirt freshman Maverick Morris and perhaps fifth-year senior Kalon Davis (who would shift from guard) are candidates.
On the other side of starting junior center Ryan Norton is another question mark, as the Tigers try to replace right guard Tyler Shatley. Davis and senior David Beasley (the latter is also suspended at Georgia) each started seven games at guard in 2013. Senior Reid Webster, sophomore Jay Guillermo and redshirt freshman Tyrone Crowder are also factors.
"I wouldn't say we're very concerned," Norton said. "It's definitely harder when you have Shaq Anthony and David Beasley out for the Georgia game. So we have three different sets of linemen, groups we're going with."
It's just like 2013, when Clemson was mixing and matching players from center to guard, or guard to center, or right side to left.
"Yeah, we've got to get some continuity. Of course, we've got a couple suspensions, but that's for one game," Caldwell said. "At some point, we've got to get the first five for the first week. But it's a long season. Puts us behind the 8-ball, so to speak, but we'll work our way out of it."
Clemson has allowed 98 sacks the past three years (at least 30 in each season), fourth-most among Atlantic Coast Conference teams in that span: Pittsburgh allowed 144 sacks, N.C. State 106 and Florida State 99.
"Oh, we take great pride in not letting that happen," Caldwell said. "So when they say it does, our dander gets up, and this group's excited about proving people wrong."
With Thomas and Shatley gone, Battle's not ready to call this 2014 offensive line better than last year. The challenge is working their way toward that mark.
"Everybody thinks they're going to run over us," Battle said. "But you know what? The game will show. That's what I can say to that. We will see."
Clemson receiver Seth Ryan, the son of New York Jets coach Rex Ryan, broke his collarbone at practice. The school said Ryan was making a diving coach in the end zone when he got hurt.
Porter-Gaud product Stanton Seckinger was injured in practice, tweaking his ankle.
It wasn't a serious injury for the junior tight end, though he did not return to practice.
Notice about comments: