Going into the season, everyone knew that one big, if not the biggest, hole on the Clemson team was the offensive line. Matters were not helped when Isaiah Battle left for the supplemental draft. While he was not a guaranteed starter, he possessed a lot of experience and ensured depth in a young and thin unit. Now Clemson is left to start a freshman, though the best freshman left tackle in the country, on opening day. Regardless of talent, it is not ideal when you have to play freshmen on either line. Too often they simply lack the strength to handle a twenty two year old who’s had a few years in an FBS-level strength and conditioning program. In addition, the offensive line is perhaps the most complex position on the field, and one mistake could get Watson killed. To say the least, there is a lot being asked of Mitch Hyatt. We here at STS wanted to show you a few things the coaching staff could do to make his job easier.
In the running game Clemson would likely benefit a lot from running away from the left side of the field. It will make the run game a little predictable, and counters must be included, but for a player lacking in strength, being asked to hitch and seal the backside on most runs makes things a lot easier. I’m not yet convinced Mitch Hyatt could drive a 3 tech out of the B gap on power. I’m much more confident that he could seal a 3 tech off on the backside. Cut blocks and reach blocks both play to his strength on outside zone, since it emphasizes speed and technical skill over brute strength. On the backside of inside zone, Hyatt is, depending on the variation of the play used, asked to combo block a three technique, get to the second level and block a linebacker, or seal off a defensive end. None of this is to say that Mitch Hyatt is a bad run blocker, but he is seen as lacking in strength, especially in the upper body. I would always rather have a guy with leg strength and technique, but, it is nice to have heavy hands as well.
In the pass game, there are a few options available to help Mitch out, and they all present different drawbacks. The first is to run standard five or six man protections but to throw quick passes. The thought process is that less time throwing means a lower likelihood of a sack. Of course, this does nothing to stretch a defense vertically, so it cannot be the only answer.
Teams can full-slide on quick passes. That means that each offensive lineman is responsible for blocking any defender which shows up in the gap to their right. The left-most gap, where the defensive end is almost certainly coming from, is left to the running back. While this will most likely spare Hyatt a one-on-one matchup with a defensive end, it requires that a running back be able to cut or hold up a team's best pass rusher. It also ensures that the back cannot leave for a pass route.
Another solution is to have the running back chip the defensive end before releasing into a route. A chip is different from the running back staying in to block. In order to chip-block, the running back begins to release into a route, finds the defensive end, gives him a good hit, then runs into the flats. The issues with this are that it slows down the running back from getting out for a safety throw, and there is still the need to either include hot routes versus the blitz or keep an additional player inside to block. This is somewhat mitigated by the fact that pretty much no college quarterback is throwing to a player who isn’t his first, second or third read, but having guys as decoys is still a nice luxury to have.
Clemson can use it’s tight ends to check release, but that has all the same positives and negatives of using a running back plus a few specific negatives. For one, it mitigates any vertical receiving threat from the tight end. Then again, Clemson’s current tight ends have less than fifty catches total, so perhaps we’re not losing much. The other drawback is that if this look is used when not in obvious passing downs, teams will almost certainly set the strength of their front to the left, where the tight end is. This puts Mitch in a situation where he has to go against heavier defenders in the run game, which mitigates many of the gains made in terms of passing.
I don’t think Mitch Hyatt will need all of this protection all the time. The first two games coming against Wofford and App. State will give him some much needed experience. He can probably get by just fine on talent during those two games while building up experience and confidence. Hyatt early enrolling helps a lot too, giving him more time to lift and learn the scheme. There is no freshman left tackle better equipped to start from day one. Still, he is just a freshman, and it’s nice to have plans in case things go wrong.