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March 6, 2013
CLEMSON - As they say, it's nice to have options. And Clemson head football coach Dabo Swinney said Wednesday night he's now got some interchangeable parts to work with on the offensive line this offseason.
"We've got a chance to have some flexibility on our offensive line and you maybe won't have to hold your breath as much there as you have in years past," he said. "We've got more moving parts, guys who can cross-train some."
Talented sophomore left tackle Isaiah Battle is trying to become one of the line's best five players. He saw work in less than a half-dozen games in 2012, but finished strong in 73 plays versus LSU. Battle, arguably the line's most athletic player, could ultimately give coaches the confidence they need to leave him at left tackle as a starter. If so, 2012 left tackle starter Brandon Thomas, who has experience at guard, could move to another spot to strengthen the line.
"There are some jobs open," said Swinney. "We've got to find the right combination. And Brandon is one of those guys who's just a luxury. He can do about anything. He could play anywhere. If you've got one guy who's just better at this and there's not much drop-off, then you could move another guy."
Swinney said 2012 right tackle starter Gifford Timothy will work in a green jersey in the coming days but should be at full speed when the team returns from spring break. The coach did not rule out the possibility of Timothy getting a look at guard later this offseason.
"We know what he can do at right tackle. He was just a sophomore last year but played winning football. He's smart and capable of taking more."
Swinney said former tight end Eric Mac Lain, who moved to the offensive front late last summer, also is an interchangeable part who could line up virtually anywhere on the line. Mac Lain has been drawing most of his reps at tackle.
Defensively, Swinney said while the secondary continues to be the biggest question mark, he likes the numbers he has up front and believes this year's linebacker rotation could be special.
"The linebacker group will be outstanding. And this is a much better defense this year. We have some guys who have now played through a whole season who were just freshmen and sophomores, so there's experience and competition."
There is some early-spring shuffling between the MLB and WLB positions, after it was thought over the winter Stephone Anthony could see more time at WILL.
"We're pretty much leaving Stephone at MIKE. And we're leaving Tony (Steward) at WILL. We feel good about Stephone just kind of sitting at that position and getting comfortable. And (Spencer) Shuey has a good grasp of what we're doing at both spots."
Justin Parker, who red-shirted last season after battling a nagging groin injury in the summer, also is getting reps at the MIKE position, while Shuey spends extensive time at WILL. (Shuey also is still pulling reps at MLB)
Swinney said he's got additional moving parts at defensive end, and to the point where it may not matter who lines up at strongside or weakside.
Asked if he's set on leaving Kevin Dodd, Shaq Lawson and Tavaris Barnes at strongside end, Swinney replied, "All those guys are interchangeable. Whomever the best two are, that's who we'll start. Vic (Beasley) is probably the only oddball there because of his skill set."
The weakside end, who led all defenders with eight sacks a year ago, is now up to 229 pounds. Swinney said he expects him to add more bulk between now and August 31.
"I'd like for Beasley to be in that 238-245-pound range by the time we get to fall camp. He's really bought into his role. If that guy is playing around 238-240, it's like he's playing at 270 because he's so strong and powerful."
Sophomore reserve offensive lineman Joe Gore has bulked up to 287 pounds, Swinney said.
The Tigers will again practice on Friday and Saturday this week. All practices are closed to the public.
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