Editor’s Note: As part of our season preview, we threw out several discussion questions to part of the writing staff. The idea was to generate a bit of discussion about several key questions for Clemson’s 2016 season. Below is the first of these.
Brian: So Clemson's OL outperformed expectations last year. Is it realistic that we are all expecting the same performance or should we be curbing our enthusiasm a little bit?
Metal Tiger: Firstly, to who the unnamed ACC coach is who claims we cannot knock anyone off the ball, go to hell. This may not be a Wisconsin or Alabama offensive line, but this team is hard-nosed up front. Led by Jay Guillermo and Tyrone Crowder in the middle, we surely have a physical presence up front. And on the edges, we have two young studs in Mitch Hyatt and Jake Fruhmorgen who look to be solid bookends (albeit the latter is more unproven but has the frame, technique, and the pedigree).
As far as expectations for this year's line, I would say that the first half of the season could have some growing pains while breaking in Fruh and left guard Taylor Hearn. I think Fruh may struggle a bit when matched up with Carl Lawson in the opener due to Lawson's speed and power combo. Really the biggest area of improvement I am looking for with the line is our ability to pick up twists and stunts which was lacking even last year during our lines Renaissance period.
All this adds up to us being a team that may favor the run to the left early on until Fruh gets settled. And a big thing to look for early will be the communication between the new tackle and guard pairings on both sides.
Brian: My biggest concern is depth. We got pretty luck last year injury wise with Crowder's injury being relatively minor. But what happens if one guy goes down on this line? Do we really have the depth to deal with that long term? I'm not sure and that scares me a lot.
Metal Tiger: Agreed, I think center and tackle are the two biggest depth concerns for me. I don't trust Falcinelli yet and behind our true sophomores at tackle we have true freshmen, and not every freshman is going to be a Mitch Hyatt. It's definitely scary and not even from an injury standpoint. If we get into a game where it's tight and we breach 70 snaps on offense, we will need our second string to come in and play effectively.
QuackingTiger: I think we can expect an upgrade along the offensive front. Hyatt just had a year to get stronger and Fruh didn't have the upper body strength he needed last year. On the inside, you have three of the better interior run blockers we have had at Clemson in awhile. Hearn is an upgrade in run blocking and a healthy Crowder is a load to handle.
I think we have more quality depth than we did last year. Certainly we don't have less. If a Tackle goes down then you will see Hearn move to the Tackle spot and Falcinelli or Morris move to the guard position. Falcinelli did fine in his time during camp as a backup Center and is better than he was last year. Remember that Ryan Norton was starting for us at Center at the beginning of last year, bless his heart.
Don't sleep on the freshman coming in either. Pollard, Anchrum, and Simpson will all continue to develop throughout the season. Big John has come in without an early enrollment and forced his way into the 2-deep. I don't think that is an indictment of our current guard play, but a reflection of just how good he has been in camp. We will need to gel in pass protection early on, but in run blocking and overall talent level the arrow is pointing up.
Ryan Kantor: QuackingTiger is spot on. The offensive line may be the the area where we've seen the most steady year-to-year improvement since Coach Swinney became the head coach. Depth is of course a concern, but I would say it is less of a concern than CB, S, DE, or QB.
Coach Craft: I'll say the OL's rise has only just begun. The depth is the biggest factor, as much improved recruiting has guys like John Simpson and Tremayne Anchcrum ready to contribute behind the starters. Hyatt is a franchise OT and Guillermo is perhaps the best center in CFB. As long as the injury bug doesn't hit, the team can bring the young guys along and the team could very well have ten guys to roll on the line for the first time in my memory. The move of Cervenka should pay dividends down the line as well. It doesn't hurt that the line gets to face the stud DL Clemson has in practice either.
Dbbm: I think the hardest thing to guarantee is that the offensive line will be as cohesive a unit as it was last year. There are probably more able-bodied offensive linemen on campus this year than last but at a certain point five guys have to be on the same page. Being as well coached a unit as last year is remarkable, I think how the offense handles blitzes and stunts early on in the season will tell us a lot about how good this unit is.
One reason why I think we inherently lack tackle depth is this offensive line seems to prioritize size. It's easier to turn a big tackle into a guard than it is to turn a quick guard into a tackle.