Posted by ESPN.com's Heather Dinich
CLEMSON, S.C. -- Everywhere Clemson associate head coach and offensive line coach Brad Scott goes around this small town, he's asked about his offensive line. Church. Restaurants. The grocery store.
"I hear it everywhere I go," he said with a laugh. "My wife asks the same question. I said that's not fair, don't you dare ask me that question."
He knows, though, that his group is the biggest question mark the Tigers have heading into a season bursting with expectations.
"We've got the bull's-eye on our backs," Scott said.
There's something about this group, though, he likes. They're friends. They live together, eat together. What they're lacking right now is continuity and starting experience. Scott is trying to make decisions as quickly as he can so he can keep five guys together for the remainder of camp and they develop that trust factor.
So far, here's what he's looking at:
Center Thomas Austin is the lone returning starter. He's mature. He's married. And he's making sure the younger players keep their focus.
Right guard Barry Humphries started seven games, including five at center and two at right guard. ("But he's got 700 snaps" Scott said, "so I would call him a veteran player.")
Left tackle Chris Hairston started in the Chick-fil-A Bowl game against Auburn at right tackle, and logged about 250 snaps in 2007.
Right Tackle Cory Lambert played about 150 snaps last season and 26 straight games over the past two seasons, but has just one start.
Left guard Jamarcus Grant has played less than 100 snaps.
"He's been the biggest question coming in, but has had one of our best camps," Scott said. "These guys understand they've got to produce. They're working extremely hard. There's a nice chemistry to this group. We are a little unproven but I love their work ethic. If that has anything to do with them having success, then I think we're going to be OK, but it's like a bag of tea. You don't know what you're going to get until you put it in hot water."
There's no doubt the temperature will rise in the season opener against Alabama. Nick Saban is bound to throw multiple defenses at this young group, and while the Tigers have film to study, the question is what Saban is working on this summer that isn't on film, and how quickly Clemson's younger players can adjust to things they haven't seen.
"You've got guys like Barry Humphries and Jamarcus Grant and Cory and Chris who have been in the program for several years and know the terminology," Austin said. "Watching it and practicing it is completely different from doing it full-speed live. Taking that head knowledge and applying it is what we're working on, and building that cohesion that is so vital for an offensive line."
The coaches have done preliminary work on Alabama, but the players are still working on installing offenses and fundamentals. The last 10 practices will be used to game plan for the season opener in the Georgia Dome.
"I don't think it's a group that's going to go out there and lay an egg," Scott said.
Especially with all of the playmakers around them.
"These backs are capable of making some guys miss," Scott said. "Certainly this is the best scenario to have, no doubt about it."
All they need, running back C.J. Spiller said, is a split second.
"That's all we ask of those guys," he said. "A split second I think will get it done."
This will be the second year in a row Clemson will have to replace four starters on the offensive line. The difference was last year, there were fifth-year seniors taking over. Now there is an infusion of youth.
"They're coming along very good," Spiller said. "They're doing way better than what people expect them to do. They're going up against a great defensive line, and that will only make them better every day. And I like the chemistry that they have up there.
"They believe in each other, they make the right calls. They're not letting the outside pressure get to them. With Thomas Austin anchoring the o-line, he's making sure those guys stay focused and don't worry about what people say about them. They'll be ready by the time games start."