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Clemson Football: Offensive Line Expectations

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Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson should have one of the best offensive lines in the country this season. I didn't expect to say that last summer, but here we are. This offensive line returns 44 of 75 starts (15 games, 5 starters each game) from last year, and just under 2/3rd's of the total snaps played. The offensive line last year was perhaps (gasp) the best in the nation, no other team managed to rank in the top ten in both sack rate and adjusted line yards.

With that said, there's only one senior on this offensive line (Guillermo), and none of the backups/new starters have more than three career starts. The offensive line has a really bright future and should be excellent this year, however, the group is young, the backups especially, and relying on young offensive linemen is a great way to get ulcers. A few injuries could derail everything. For now though the offensive line has more than earned the benefit of the doubt.

Since last fall has it seemed apparent Jake Fruhmorgen would start at right tackle this year, both due to his quality and the lack of alternatives. True sophomore is still pretty young for an offensive lineman to see the field, but he is talented and more experienced than most true sophomores without any career starts. Fruhmorgen is a more known commodity as a run blocker right now, but in large part that is due to how many of his snaps came in mop up where Clemson did not need nor want to pass the ball. Fruhmorgen should be at least fine and improve over the course of the season.

Behind him there are converted guards and freshmen. Tackle depth is not pretty and with defensive end also a question mark I'm not sure how many quality reps either unit will get this summer. Right tackle is the offensive lines biggest question mark heading into fall camp.

Tyrone Crowder will again play right guard, and is the archetypical right guard. Crowder is a one man wrecking crew once he gets his hands on a defensive player, but he's also slow enough that there's a chance he misses his block entirely. Where Crowder really shines is combo blocks in the run game, where he and Guillermo or Fruhmorgen will likely be throwing defensive tackles into some poor linebackers lap.

Maverick Morris could be perfectly fine as the second string right guard as well, but he doesn't have any of the pluses that Crowder has. Unless Morris has taken a sizable step this offseason I just don't see him as good enough to challenge for anything besides backup guard and maybe backup right tackle snaps. Still, a versatile and at bare minimum average backup is nothing to scoff at. Particularly when Crowder has missed games.

Losing Ryan Norton early last season may have been a blessing in disguise. Center is the most mentally taxing position on the offensive line and Guillermo has invaluable experience. Justin Falcinneli seems to have the backup center spot nailed down. Both are large centers, weighing in at over 300 pounds. Guillermo is massive at nearly 330 pounds and plays more like a guard. He's not that fast, but he's rare among centers in that he can at least stalemate a nose guard one on one -- an invaluable attribute that prevents negative plays. I'm not quite sure what we will see of Falcinneli, though the fact he can play guard hints he's stronger than most centers.

I didn't expect to see Taylor Hearn leading at left guard, but given how Maverick Morris looks like a utility player at this point I can't say I'm too upset. Hearn looks more like last years starter (Eric Mac Lain) than Morris did. Both are listed at 330 pounds, both started outside (Mac Lain as a tight end, Hearn as a Tackle) before bulking up and both are good at using that athleticism while pulling to lead block. Given how good the right side of the line is at opening holes when running power/counter it would make sense to want someone who can pull well on the left side. The size of Hearn will also likely help Hyatt get push on double teams. If Hearn has a disappointing fall camp either Falcinelli or Morris could handle left guard. I'm not certain who will start, but I'm not particularly worried.

Mitch Hyatt returns to hold down the left tackle spot, and let's just not think about the alternatives, because for the second year in a row an injury to Hyatt could derail the season. Hyatt played out of his mind as a true freshman, and with an offseason to learn the scheme more and stronger I think Hyatt could make a run at 1st team All ACC. Should Hyatt go down there's some pretty ugly scenarios.

Anchrum is currently listed as the backup left tackle, and played well enough in the spring game to warrant mop up duty (or show us the defensive ends are way behind schedule), but there is a reason why true freshman do not start at left tackle. Particularly not true freshman who were largely listed as guards by recruiting services. That would mean Fruhmorgen would likely slide over (and, as a true sophomore, there is no guarantee he will be ready for that) and some combination of Hearn or Morris would play right tackle. The guard and center depth is pretty good right now; the tackle depth is the only question mark on this entire offense.

Clemson right now appears to want to run inside zone, power and counter. All of these are downhill schemes that emphasize running the defense over. This is why Clemson's guards and center are all around 330 pounds. Strength inside appears to be a priority for Robbie Caldwell. Given how well the inside running game opens up space for Clemson's athletes outside, and how good Gallman is at getting downhill, this makes sense.

The tradeoffs in quickness will occasionally show up when pass blocking, but technique can and has helped mitigate those weaknesses. The emphasis on quick passing, play action, and the quick release and scrambling ability of Watson mean I'm not particularly worried about pass protection outside of a few blitzes schemed up to confuse Fruhmorgen (much how Hyatt was attacked last year). Overall, this is a talented and productive, but thin group of players that fit the vision of the offense. If everyone stays healthy this should be a top ten offensive line again, if not, who knows.

Finally here is the depth chart at the end of spring ball

thestate.com

(Courtesy of Thestate.com)