CLEMSON — It’s difficult, if not impossible, to recall the last time Chad Morris openly campaigned for an unproven player to seize a starting job ahead of a veteran. But Clemson’s offensive coordinator has made it known he wants sophomore Isaiah Battle to be the Tigers’ starting left tackle.
One look at Battle and it’s easy to understand Morris’ position. Battle looks like a future NFL tackle. The 6-6, 280-pounder has a frame easily capable of carrying 300-plus pounds. He’s athletic with nimble feet. It’s a rare type of raw talent, and it’s the kind of potential Clemson hasn’t had in some time.
The Tigers have not had an offensive lineman selected in the first three rounds of the NFL draft since Joe Bostic was a third-round selection in 1979. Battle is the type of player Clemson needs to neutralize the defensive fronts of Georgia, South Carolina and Florida State.
The expectations for Battle were accelerated when he held his own against LSU’s highly regarded defensive ends in the Chick-fil-A Bowl. As a true freshman, Battle was pressed into duty because of an injury to starter Gifford Timothy. Battle’s performance, sustained over 73 snaps, was accomplished solely through size and athleticism.
“We’d like Isaiah Battle to make his mind up that he wants to be the best tackle in the league, which he could be,” Morris said. “We all know what he can do. We saw it against one of the best defenses in the country. Now we have to parlay that into practice.
“We thought coming out of that LSU game, ‘Man this is it. We got it, we’ve got to figure it out.’ We just quite haven’t got it done yet. That doesn’t mean it’s not going to get done. It’s going to get done whether he likes it or not.”
Morris also saw last season how one defensive player (South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney) can disrupt his dynamic offense without a talented tackle on the offensive line.
Morris prefers not to double-team any opponent. Clowney sacked Boyd 4.5 times last November and harassed him on a number of other occasions, causing an interception.
Morris referred to Battle as a potential missing “puzzle piece” for an offense that already returns other elite parts like Tajh Boyd and Sammy Watkins. Battle could be the final piece for an offense that has a chance to be the best in program history — if Battle improves his mental focus and practice habits.
Battle thinks he can handle the defensive ends that have targeted Boyd’s blindside. Battle said he has to work on his pad level, hand placement and footwork.
“I think I would do well against (Clowney) because he is quick and powerful and I am quick and powerful,” Battle told Tigernet.com. “The SEC is a different level than the ACC. They are bigger and stronger and more competitive. It was a different level. You could tell by the look on (LSU defenders’) faces that they thought they were going to trample over me, but I held my own.”
If Battle can win the job it will have a positive trickle-down effect on the rest of the offensive line. It will allow the staff to move Brandon Thomas inside to guard, where he is better suited, increasing the depth and athleticism of the line that returns four starters.
“There’s a difference between looking and playing good,” Morris said. “He’s got the talent, and he’s got it all. But he has to make his mind up that he wants it. I want it for him but that don’t mean a whole lot.”