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2016 Clemson Football Season Preview: Offensive Line

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2015 saw a complete Renaissance on the offensive line.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

After years of mediocrity (at best, sometimes) on the offensive line, the 2015 team pulled a complete 180 and fielded a great offensive line. The best part of it was this offensive line was destined for failure. First, one of our centers, Jay Guillermo left the team in the spring to battle some personal demons. Then, our best offensive lineman, left tackle Isiah Battle, decided to enter the NFL supplemental draft during the summer which meant a true freshman would be protecting Deshaun Watson's blindside. Finally, we were breaking in brand new starters at right guard and left guard and rebooting our right tackle after a injury riddled first attempt at a starting role.

Yikes. All of this should have added up to a discombobulated product on the field... yet it didn't. Mitch Hyatt flourished at LT as a true freshman, Jay Guillermo overcame depression to become a rock in the center of the line, Joe Gore finally put his tools to use and became a solid RT, and our guards became road graders on the interior. Wow. Robbie Caldwell deserves a lot of credit for this but also, kudos to the staff for finally recruiting the offensive line properly as we now are building a solid stable of guys to groom to use on the offensive front.

Departures

Eric Mac Lain LG (6'4'', 315, Graduation): Mr. Clemson arrived on campus in 2011 as a highly-rated TE prospect, but after a redshirt year and an unremarkable second season, made the switch to the offensive line.  It took a couple years but Mac Lain eventually developed into a quality player (2015 1st team All-ACC) and one of the most respected leaders on the team.  It's his leadership and intelligence that will be missed the most from this team, not to mention being one of the best interviews in school history.

Eric may not have an NFL future, but when he's being inducted into the HOF as a broadcaster or sitting at his desk in the Oval Office, he can look back on his playing career with pride.

Ryan Norton C (6'3'', 295, Graduation): Norton seemed to be arching to a potentially great career after coming in and being serviceable at center during his Freshman and Sophomore campaigns. The wheels not only started to come off the bus, but occasionally, they rocketed off and triggered doomsday scenarios. Norton so lovingly earned the moniker "Turnstile" from myself during film review two years ago due to the fact he was always spinning around as someone passed him. He began to draw the ire of all the Clemson faithful due to some inconsistent snaps that he would at times try to launch into orbit.

He began the 2015 season as the starter at center but due to injury had to sit out and this allowed Jay Guillermo to come in and flourish in the middle of the line. Norton leaves Clemson as a graduate and leaves behind a career of potential "what ifs."

Joe Gore RT (6'6'', 300, Graduation): Gore was often remarked as being a member of the All-American "Off The Bus" Team. That is to say, that he looked like a pure monster. Although listed at 300 pounds, not much of that was fat as he was a toned and athletic looking tackle. However, it wasn't really until his Senior year that he began to put his natural gifts to use. The 2014 campaign saw him start the year as our RT but quickly begin to get lost in blitz pickup and not being capable of generating much push in the running game. In the middle of 2014, he had to have an emergency appendectomy which set him back even further.

Thankfully for the 2015 squad, Gore's light finally clicked on and he began to show some signs of life. Although he wasn't a dominating RT, he was above average and actually earned some all-conference honors. Granted, he still looked lost at times during some blitz pickups, but it was great to see him finally realize some of his potential.

Zach Riggs C (6'5'', 275, Injury): Unfortunately for Riggs, he had to leave the football program during this spring due to an "accumulation of injuries". Riggs was a preferred walk-on who began his Clemson career at TE before moving to center. He was just learning to play there and potentially be serviceable and help with depth. It is unfortunate for the legacy player to have to leave the game in this fashion, but I would suspect that he is not completely done with football yet and may come back as a undergraduate assistant. Best of luck moving forward and hopefully those injuries won't affect Riggs in his day to day life.

2016 Returnees

Mitch Hyatt, LT (6'5'', 295, Sophomore, 2015 Stats: 1092 Snaps, 37 knockdowns, 15 starts): Hyatt came to Clemson as our highest rated offensive line prospect of all time (depending on the service you follow). Expectations were high but he blew them away after being thrusted into a starting role after Battle's sudden departure. He was exceptional in pass pro and offered some upside in the running game. Minus a few plays where twists and stunts got the best of both he and Eric Mac Lain, Hyatt kept Watson clean and upright. Hyatt rightfully earned Freshman All-American honors and will look to build off of this in 2016.

2016 Season Expectations: Continue to be stellar in pass pro and build more strength in the running game. Will vie for All-American Honors and enter the conversation as a top 2018 draft pick at the tackle spot.

Taylor Hearn, LG/OT (6'5'' 330, RS Sophomore, 2015 Stats: 180 Snaps, 14 games played): Hearn came to Clemson as a big road grader that would have to work to refine his pass protection. He slowly has, and while he isn't the first body you would trust in space, he can be serviceable at tackle.  Hearn's primary role this season will be at left guard where he is listed currently as the starter.  He is a very large body that is quite capable in the power running game and will be a potential upgrade to Eric Mac Lain in the running game.

2016 Season Expectations: So long as his pass pro holds up and his communication with Hyatt and Guillermo is solid for blitz pickup, Hearn could be a sleeper for 2nd or 3rd team All-ACC honors.

Jay Guillermo, C (6'3'', 325, Graduate, 2015 Stats: 1092 Snaps, 25 knockdowns, 15 games played (13 starts)): Guillermo had a rollercoaster of a 2015 season. After taking a leave from the football program to get his personal life in order, he returned to the team and was relegated to the second team behind Ryan Norton. When Norton got injured early in the season, it opened the door for Guillermo to claim the starting spot, and he never relinquished his hold on the position. He is a very positive leader and has a great relationship with Watson which is key to keeping this offense running smoothly. Guillermo is a great run blocker and a capable pass blocker, something that NFL scouts have definitely taken notice of as his senior year approaches this fall.

2016 Season Expectations: Guillermo will be in the conversation for All American honors and will be a potential high round pick in the 2017 draft. He could use some improvement in the passing game, but this is mostly due to blitz pickups with his guards which is part of the offensive line gelling into a cohesive unit.

Tyrone Crowder, RG (6'2'', 330, RS Junior, 2015 Stats: 792 Snaps, 16 knockdowns, 13 games played (12 starts)): Big Tyrone Crowder is an absolute mauler at the right guard spot. He is a champion in the weight room and he definitely transfers this strength to the football field. Although he is a little short for your prototype guard, he doesn't allow this to be used against him on a regular basis. Crowder can get lost a bit when the defense starts playing laterally with stunts and twists and this will be a key area of improvement for him moving into his Junior year.

2016 Season Expectations: Continue to be a rock that we can run behind and improve in pass protection. Potential for All-ACC honors.

Jake Fruhmorgen, RT (6'6'', 290, Sophomore, 2015 Stats: 245 Snaps, 11 games played (1 start)): Fruh came in last year as another highly touted freshman with Hyatt but did not have as smooth of a transition to the D1 level. He often struggled with stronger DE's and as a result, didn't push for a starting job early on. Fruh did manage to log a significant amount of snaps as the season progressed. That experience, coupled with a full year in the strength program, will serve him well. He has a great football pedigree as his father played offensive line at Alabama and professionally, and Fruh has used his knowledge and now the teachings of Robbie Caldwell to become a very technically sound player. Fruh will start at RT this season and so long as his gains in the weight room translate to the field, he could complete a pair of solid young tackles in the starting lineup.

2016 Season Expecttions: Take control of the RT spot and become an asset on the edge to allow for a balanced line. Key area to watch will be his blitz pickup and his handling of stouter DE's. Fruh has an outside shot of 2nd or 3rd team All-ACC honors.

Justin Falcinelli, C/OG (6'3'', 305, RS Sophomore, 2015 Stats: 123 Snaps, 3 knockdowns, 13 games played): Falcinelli offers a backup on all 3 interior spots for the Tigers this fall, and will be the primary backup for Guillermo at center. Falcinelli has been getting more reps this camp due to Guillermo's head injury and hopefully he is using this practice time wisely as he appears to be the heir apparent for when Guillermo graduates and goes pro. Falcinelli wasn't too inspiring during his outings last fall and I really only recall him during the early games when he snapped the ball over Kelly Bryant's head (which Bryant made an insane play on to actually gain a few yards). Falcinelli really needs to work on cleaning up the little things in his game at this point but he will definitely see heavy second string action this fall.

2016 Season Expectations: No fouled up snaps and garnering at least 200 snaps in a grooming year.

Maverick Morris, OG/OT (6'5'', 300, RS Junior, 2015 Stats: 429 Snaps, 8 knockdowns, 15 games played (3 starts)): Ok, so who else here had no idea he logged that many snaps in 2015? Ok sure, he got some time when Crowder was hurt later in the year but still to gain over 400 snaps without me really dogging his performance has to be good right? That being said, Morris is very good if things are sitting straight in front of him. It's when they start moving is when things get a little wonky on occasions. Morris played some tackle last year when he wasn't spotting in for Crowder and it definitely did not look like his natural position. He can play there if needed but he is best suited at guard.

2016 Season Expectations: Continue to offer versatile depth on the interior and potentially log some snaps on the outside. May take salsa lessons to improve lateral footwork.

Noah Green, OG/OT (6'5'', 290, RS Freshman, 2015 Stats: Redshirt): Green is an athletic lineman hailing from Boiling Springs, SC. He lit up the camp circuit his senior year of high school by posting some impressive Sparq numbers. His redshirt freshman year though, he seemed to struggle with the step up in competition (as is often seen with offensive linemen in SC). Towards the end of the year, he began to struggle with some injury issues but seems primed and ready to go to offer some versatile depth on the line this fall.

2016 Season Expectations: Continue to adapt to the game and gain some snaps in mop up duty.

Zach Giella, C (6'5'', 300, RS Freshman, 2015 Stats: Redshirt): Giella is another lineman that spent 2015 redshirting in order to gain strength and adapt to the speed of the collegiate game. He appears to be locked in at 3rd string center currently and reminds me a bit of Dalton Freeman. That is to say, he's a tall center because really, that's all the comparisons that I can draw currently.

2016 Season Expectations: Gain some snaps in mop up duty so that I can offer better analysis.

The Newcomers

Tremayne Anchrum, OL (6'3'', 300, Powder Springs, Georgia, 3*): Anchrum graduated from high school this past December and spent this spring working with the Clemson program to better prepare himself for a potential role this fall and my oh my did he turn some heads. When I first saw him commit, I thought guard all the way but after watching the spring game, his is a Brandon Thomas clone. Short for a tackle but long arms and great technique. He will definitely play this fall and is currently listed at backup LT to Hyatt.

2016 Season Expectations: Earn valuable playing time behind Hyatt and offer him some relief while gaining good experience.

Sean Pollard, OL (6'5'', 300, Southern Pines, NC, 4*): Pollard is another lineman that enrolled early this spring and has also found his way into the two deep. Pollard was another that was thought to be a potential guard take but this spring he showed that he has the ability to stick on the outside at RT, where he is listed as the backup to Fruhmorgen.

2016 Season Expectations: See Anchrum, Tremayne, substitute "Hyatt" for "Fruhmorgen".

John Simpson, OG (6'4'', 305, Charleston, SC, 4*): Unlike the two freshmen mentioned above, Simpson did not get a chance to enroll early. However, just like the freshmen above, the reports out of fall camp are that Simpson has impressed enough and shown enough that the coaches are not only not going to redshirt him, but that he is also squarely in the two deep currently. He showed up ready to go physically and to this point has not had any major mental lapses.

2016 Season Expectations: Will push for playing time, likely at LG allowing Falcinelli to be the primary center backup and Morris to be the primary at RG.

Chandler Reeves, OT (6'6'', 280, McDonough, GA, 3*): Reeves is a project tackle that will definitely be taking a redshirt this fall. This is no slight against his potential but he probably has one of the steeper learning curves for the newcomers this fall. When he committed, he weighed a very light 255 and I had concerns that he would not be able to pack on the good weight, especially since his frame appears to be a bit narrow. But, by all accounts he showed up for fall camp with about 30 pounds of good added weight and it hasn't seemed to hinder his abilities to this point.

2016 Season Expectations: Redshirt and continue to pack on the weight. *Update: Reeves has suffered a knee injury so much of 2016 will be recovery and rehab while also trying to add good weight."

Cade Stewart, OL (6'4'', 310, Clemson, SC, 3*): Stewart was a late addition to the 2016 recruiting class. Originally committed to Georgia Southern, he flipped late in the process when Clemson offered him a greyshirt. Well, due to attrition, Cade actually was able to enroll this fall and will be spending the season redshirting and adapting his body and skills to the college game.

2016 Season Expectations: Redshirt and adapt.

Summary

The 2016 edition of the offensive line will more than likely maintain the level of play that was seen last season but it may be shaky early with tough road trips to Auburn and Georgia Tech. The communication between all of the new members of the line will be critical, but overall, this line could potentially offer better pass pro and have a better interior power run game than last year. Finally, I am absolutely loving the guys we have recruited on the line the past 2 cycles, as of right now, they're all showing great potential and some fierce mentalities. Hats off to the staff for finally taking the recruiting up front seriously, as the 2017 class is currently looking great as well. It all starts in the trenches and it's gratifying to finally see some great play on the offensive front from the Tigers.