CLEMSON - Few offenses move forward from first gear to fifth gear as seamlessly as Clemson's. The Tigers, all too often, find themselves in reverse gear, too.
It's an easy area to nitpick, mainly because the track record is daunting. In Chad Morris' three record-setting years as offensive coordinator, Clemson has nationally ranked 93rd, 80th, and last year 106th (or put another way, 18th-worst) in allowing tackles for loss.
"Of course, we take it to heart every day," right tackle Shaq Anthony said. "We came up with a set of goals for this spring about being the most dominant line on the field."
Seeing as Clemson's defensive linemen are experienced and proven, that's a tall task for its blockers and protecters. Not a bad way to prepare for when the game counts this fall.
"We've got to make sure no more mental errors on anything. That's the biggest thing," center Ryan Norton said. "And then physically, I feel like we can match up against a lot of people. I mean, heck, we go up against the best defensive line in the nation every day. So physically, yeah I feel like we can go against anyone."
It just hasn't been the case, not with those troubling statistics. Although the TFL numbers from previous years aren't what concern Morris; it's the number of viable playing options he sees in uniform at the moment, as Clemson continues to tinker with tackles playing guard and left-side players bouncing to the right side.
Anthony's suspended for the season opener at Georgia, as is left guard David Beasley, for a violation of team rules. Which means youngsters like Joe Gore, Eric Mac Lain, Tyrone Crowder and Maverick Morris are being hurried along in their development.
"We've got some depth issues. That's why we're moving guys all over," Morris said. "We've got some guys we like, that we've got to grow up in a hurry. Depth is a concern as you start moving guys all around; that's why we're trying to do that this spring."
Besides Norton, who seems set as the starting center, the lone certainty is Clemson coaches figure it's Isaiah Battle's time to shine as Brandon Thomas' successor at left tackle.
Battle currently weighs 285 pounds, meaning he needs to put on 10 to 20 pounds of girth this summer.
"Weight room, and my eating habits," Battle said. "I've got to get with the specialist to try to gain more weight. Footwork, everything else, comes with the process."
Battle said his focus has never been sharper, and besides remembering to stay low at all times - Thomas' lasting commodity was leverage as an undersized blind-side blocker - he's confident heading into his junior year.
"It's mine. I'm not going to give it up. I work hard for the position," Battle said. "I've been behind BT, studying him. The spot is mine, I'm going to take it and work hard to keep it too."
Head coach Dabo Swinney was encouraged by the offensive line play in the March 31 scrimmage, but discouraged this past Monday. Such is life with an ever-in-transition unit.
"Nobody's getting ready to jump off a cliff or anything; we're just not as consistent as we need to be across the board," Swinney said. "We're undisciplined and inconsistent, and that's what I saw in (Monday's) scrimmage.
"Some good things were overshadowed by some critical mistakes in critical situations. Red zone, guys jumping offsides, a couple guys didn't know the play when the ball's being snapped."
As for the chronic pass protection issues, Swinney stops short of laying all the blame on the big uglies up front.
"It's easy to just throw the OL out there, back the bus up and run over them one more time," Swinney said. "But that's way too simple of an answer. It's everybody involved. It's us coaching, it's us calling the right play, it's the quarterback, it's the backs, the receivers, the guys in motion being in the right place. Everything goes into that. We've got to become a very disciplined team."