Too soon to judge the Clemson Football offensive line

On the surface, we didn't see a notable improvement for the offensive line after one spring under Matt Luke, but the process will undoubtedly take longer than that.
Clemson offensive line coach Matt Luke during the first day of Spring practice
Clemson offensive line coach Matt Luke during the first day of Spring practice / Ken Ruinard / staff / USA TODAY NETWORK

A few days ago, I discussed the performance of the defensive ends in the Spring Game. I think the guys competing for a spot in the regular rotation played well last Saturday.

The obvious counter-point to that conversation is whether the defensive ends were that good, or if the offensive line was that bad. That is a fair question. The offensive line hasn’t been very good the last few years.

Contrary to the belief of some today, the offensive line during much of Robbie Caldwell’s tenure was not bad. He wasn’t putting players into the NFL, but the line was not the liability it has been for the past few seasons.

Things did trail off at the end of Caldwell’s tenure. There were times when we had hope that the line was improving under Thomas Austin, but that ultimately did not happen. The hire of Matt Luke excited Tiger Nation with the hopes that the line would see improvement and be the catalyst for an improved offense in the fall.

If one makes a surface-level judgment, it is easy to conclude that we didn’t see a significant improvement in the Spring Game. We should be braced for that reality: we might not see a big improvement in the line in Luke Year 1.

Luke is, by all accounts, one of the best offensive line coaches in the country, but the ability of the players will always be the key component in just how good the group can be. There are far more 4-star players on the roster than 3-star or 2-star players, but that doesn’t mean the evaluations were correct.

Even if Luke is the man to whip them into shape and develop them, that isn’t likely to happen overnight. It takes time. Most Clemson fans thought Garrett Riley would have an immediate impact on the offense overall in Riley Year 1. It didn’t happen.

I acknowledge all of that to make this point: what we saw from the Orange team, with most of the starting-caliber players on it, is that they only allowed two sacks and seven tackles for loss. Most of the mistakes we saw were from the White offensive line, which was the second string and reserves.

 The White line gave up nine sacks and fourteen tackles for loss, twice as many as the Orange. Let’s also remember the key point about spring games: the players can’t actually ‘sack’ the quarterback. A sack is merely when a player gets close enough to get a hand on the quarterback. I can’t begin to think of all the times Clemson defensive players have come so close but can’t bring the quarterback down.

I haven’t gone back and analyzed every sack called, but I would guess that 30-35% of them probably wouldn’t be actual sacks in a real game.

The line is not a yes or no situation. Right now it is in a purgatory in between. I don’t think we saw enough to be comfortable with the offensive line, nor did we see enough to write them off. Luke will need more time, and fall camp might still not be enough. Improving the offensive line might be a longer process than we hoped.