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2016 Clemson Football Review: Offensive Line

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NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Ohio State vs Clemson
Ooooh that kick slide
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The 2015 season saw a resurgence of the Clemson offensive line. Guys were regularly winning the 1 on 1 match-ups, re-establishing the line of scrimmage, and keeping Watson upright and clean in the pocket. This bred a lot of hope for the 2016 offensive line, where we were replacing 2 seniors who were not originally OL (LG Eric Mac Lain was a TE & RT Joe Gore a DE) with guys who were both sought after OL recruits. (3* OG Taylor Hearn & 4* OT Jake Fruhmorgen).

Sadly, the 2016 offensive line had numerous hiccups along the way. Whether it be lack of cohesion in blitz pickups, blown assignments in the running game, or sometimes what appeared to be a lack on concentration and effort, the 2016 offensive line played uninspired most of the season.

Now, this is not to say that there weren’t some bright spots (such as blowing Da’Ron Payne 5 yards deep in the endzone in the Natty), but the expectations versus reality for the offensive line did not align this year. This offseason, I would anticipate a lot of grinding by Caldwell to refocus and sharpen this group. Below we have the player listed by name, primary position(s), snap total, games started (GS), and games player (GP). The game data and snaps is all prior to the Alabama game.

Mitch Hyatt, LT, Sophomore, 895 Snaps, 13 GS, 14 GP

Mitch’s freshman year was nothing short of amazing looking back. He stepped in to be a starter after the sudden departure of Isiah Battle to start at LT on what would end up being the #2 team in the country. He not only failed to be a liability, but was actually a bit of a strength of the team. This lead to many Tiger faithful believing that he would have a stellar second year in Tigertown.

Well......that didn’t exactly happen. It’s not as though he regressed as he was still quite a good pass blocker, although he struggled with speed rushers getting the corner on him at times. Where the big leap was expected to Hyatt was as a run blocker, someone who could open creases through the B gap by shoving the DE outside or by hooking the DE to give us the edge. This, sadly, did not seem to happen on a consistent basis. Granted, some of this doom and gloom perspective is due to such high expectations and some of the review may be due to having to play next to what ended up being the weakest spot on the line. So, sorry Hyatt, you may just be guilty by association.

From the 2016 Season Preview:

How did we do?

Well, he was still very good in pass pro, and although he didn’t get All-American Honors, he did manage to be First Team All-ACC and there are some scouts that have taken notice of his talent, but maybe not 1st round at this point. I’d give Hyatt an A- grade.

Taylor Hearn, LG, RS Sophomore, 923 Snaps, 14 GS, GP

Replacing Mr Clemson (Eric Mac Lain) was always going to be a difficult task from a leadership standpoint, but many thought that Hearn would at least be able to match or potentially exceed Mac Lain’s physicality. Mac Lain was not a road grader on the inside but was an exceptional pass blocker.

Hearn showed flashes of his physicality at times this year, but he was definitely seen loafing or having mental lapses more than a fair share this year. I was surprised to see that he had the second highest snap totals among offensive linemen with 923 (Second only to Guillermo). He often struggled with quick games from DL and LBs and never really gave full effort unless the stakes were raised. When he is focused on his game, he definitely posses the tools to be a physical force on the inside of the line but first must play with that fire all of the time. The final objectives would be to play with good technique and keep his pad level lower, as he tends to pop up out of his stance a bit.

From the 2016 Season Preview:

How did we do?

Well....his pass pro didn’t really hold up at times and some of that was due to mental lapses, whether that be from communication with Hyatt and Guillermo, or just flat out not knowing what to do. To which one, we cannot be sure. He didn’t earn any All-ACC honors this season and will have to train hard to hold off some of the younger talent on the team. C+ is the grade here.

Jay Guillermo, C, RS Senior, 972 Snaps, 14 GS, 14 GP

Guillermo stepped in a few games deep into 2015 for the much maligned Ryan Norton and he never looked back. He has been a very solid rock in the center of the line for the Tigers the past two years and his abilities and leadership will be sorely missed.

While he plays with nastiness in the running game (see the GT film review for an awesome pancake), he sometimes took a bit too deep of a drop in pass pro in my opinion which lead to an almost false collapse of the pocket, especially when lined up with a shaded NG. That being said, Guillermo still was improved as a pass blocker in 2016 and showed some good quicks on some pull hooks from the center spot, which pro scouts will drool about.

From the 2016 Season Preview:

How did we do?

Well, apparently I was really high on Guillermo in the preseason, thinking that All American honors were in order (maybe I’m to blame for the high bar set by the line?) but, he did earn First Team All ACC. Guillermo did seem to improve some with his pass pro from a mirroring perspective. I believe that he could still be a top 3 round draft pick, depending on how he tests. For all of this, Jay has earned a solid B+ for this season.

Tyrone Crowder, RS Junior, 793 Snaps, 14 GS, 14 GP

He is what he is. A bowling ball and a phone booth mauler who is a bit limited with prototypical size and athleticism, but for a RG, that’s sometimes all you need. In 2016, Crowder had some shining moments where he would either blow someone off the ball or even pull decently into space (like Gallman’s first run vs Bama).

Other times though....well not so much. Many times this year, I spotted Big 55 tapping his helmet for relief and ushering in a backup OG, especially after a pulling play. His conditioning has always been his most limiting factor in his game in my opinion. Sure, he doesn’t have the arm length to be a highly effective pass blocker and shield guys from getting into his body, but if Crowder wants to be taken seriously in his final year by pro scouts, he needs to condition himself better and improve his pulling and lateral agility. But as a power blocker on the inside, he was typically reliable if going straight ahead.

From the 2016 Season Preview:

How did we do?

Well, it seems that we were pretty close to predictions here but Crowder still has room for improvement but did earn 1st Team All ACC Honors. Solid B+/B is the grade here.

Jake Fruhmorgen, RT, Sophomore, 523 Snaps, 8 GS, 8 GP

Fruhmorgen had quite the roller coaster ride in his brief playing time this season in Tigertown. He was expected to grow in the off-season and provide us with a pair of second year bookends that would keep Watson upright and clean, but also allow us to have an edge in the exterior running game. That didn’t exactly happen.

Fruhmorgen often struggled with more physical players on the edge in both the running and passing games. He was so bad at times, that after the BC game, Dabo even called out his poor play. Fruh came to Clemson as a highly touted player and after leaving the team mid season for personal reasons, is now electing to transfer out of the program with the initial destinations listed as either Florida or Michigan.

As Fruh moves forward, let’s hope that he gets his personal life sorted out and that he can become the player that we all thought he could.

From the 2016 Season Preview:

How did we do?

Well, I did say that the key would be going against stouter DE’s and the mental portions of the game right? Sadly, the warning signs were there and he did not pull through on the key area that had been identified for his success. In Fruh’s abbreviated season, we will give him a C-, because so much potential has yet to be realized.

Sean Pollard, RT, Freshman, 489 Snaps, 6 GS, 11 GP

After the departure of Fruh from the team, the task of manning the RT spot was given to true freshman Sean Pollard. Initially, thought to be a bit of a guard/tackle tweener by some, he proved in Spring Practice that he had enough athleticism to stick outside. That being said, being thrust into this position so early in his career is a difficult task, and to ask for a Mitch Hyatt 2.0 was a bit unreasonable.

His experience in enrolling early paid dividends for his action, so thankfully he wasn’t fully green, otherwise things could have gotten ugly. Pollard definitely seemed to struggle at times with the speed of the college game and in the running game never seemed to get a significant push. Stalemates were the objective when asked to go head up with DE’s and he did that job admirably, but his youth did get chances to shine through with some poor technique and getting bullied at times.

From the 2016 Season Preview (this one is a bit if a paraphrase):

How did we do?

Well, he offered more than relief for Fruh as he stepped into the starting role and didn’t create a more glaring weakness at what was already a shaky position. If Pollard can progress in the offseason, he could be a valuable asset at RT for years to come. A solid B is Pollard’s grade.

Maverick Morris, OG/OT, RS Junior, 290 Snaps, 13 GP

A bit of a utility bench player, Morris has logged playing time at LT, LG, RG, and RT during his time at Clemson. During these various spot duties, he has been adequate but is neither a lockdown pass blocker nor a bruising run blocker. He just kind of exists.

Morris spent most of his time coming off the bench for Crowder when Crowder would inevitably tap out from the game due to being too tired or getting a stinger. Morris was also spotted this year a LG and RT some but I don’t recall seeing him being the first off the bench at LT but I’m sure he eventually logged time there.

From the 2016 Season Preview:

How did we do?

Looks like the expectations were just about nailed on this one, as Morris played on the interior mostly but did spend some time at spot duty tackle, and since he didn’t really bust in pass pro often, I’m going to go ahead and say that I nailed this one. (Feel free to contact me at any time Dabo, and no me grading myself is a totally fair review system).

Justin Falcinelli, C/OG, RS Sophomore, 174 Snaps, 11 GP

A versatile interior lineman, “Falci” was a bit underwhelming this year. Even though he was the second string center, I often shuddered at the notion of him having to play of Guillermo if injury were to strike. Hell, I shuddered when I did have to watch him play at times in mop up duty.

For a guy who should be the first one who realizes that the ball is snapped, he seems to always let the quicker DL take advantage of him. When he doesn’t have a quick DL on him, his high pad level gets him in trouble. And to boot, his snaps while at center were often erratic and lead to some Benny Hill theme song inspired moments.

Look, I’m not saying that he can’t improve this offseason and be a good player for us. But, from what I’ve seen so far it doesn’t inspire confidence. His play at guard isn’t much better either, as when he was asked to pull on bucksweeps and powers, he always seemed to be late arriving or unable to make meaningful contact if he manage to pull in time.

This is my first really super negative evaluation of an offensive lineman, let’s see if I had the same optimism preseason.

From the 2016 Season Preview:

How did we do?

Well, it sounds like my only criteria for a good year was no bad snaps and I think we had at least one or two. I’ll pass on grading this one and will hope that Caldwell works some magic this offseason.

John Simpson, OG, Freshman, 160 Snaps, 9 GP

Big John is on what Dabo has called “The Off The Bus Team,” meaning that when he gets off the bus, you take notice. Despite the fact that he did not enroll early along with two of his fellow freshman commits, Simpson showed up ready to play and quickly cemented himself in the two deep rotation.

The first glimpses we saw of Simpson were early in the year vs SC State in some mop up duty. Even though the level of competition wasn’t the best, I came away impressed. His pulling and climbing to the second level on some inside power plays and buck sweeps was beautiful to watch. He moved so effortlessly and to make it all even sweeter, when he arrived to a defender, he put a hat on a hat and made a running lane.

Beautiful.

Then the mid-year stretch came along and Simpson got exposed some in pass protection by over extending and not playing with good technique. This will be a key point of improvement moving forward into 2017 and if he does improve here, it wouldn’t be a shock to see a healthy split of responsibilities at LG between Simpson and Hearn.

From the 2016 Season Preview:

How did we do?

Pretty well I’d say, he was listed as the backup at LG but Morris seemed to be the first guard off the bench more often than not, but I’ll still stroke my own ego for this one, don’t worry. A solid B for Big John in year one.

Tremayne Anchrum, OT, Freshman, 288 Snaps, 1 GS, 10 GP

After spring practice, the comparisons came rolling in the Anchrum and the immediate comparison was for Brandon Thomas. Like Thomas, Anchrum lacks the prototypical size for a tackle at only 6’3’’, but his arm length and refined technique allowed him to be an effective player on the edge.

Anchrum was listed for most of the year at the primary backup to Mitch Hyatt at LT and when called into duty, was serviceable. Against Pitt, he started the game (due to Hyatt getting disciplinary action) and played most of the snaps after Hyatt left the game early with injury. He held up well in pass protection against a good player in Ejuan Price, but failed to generate any push in the running game. As with Pollard, asking for a true freshman to arrive on campus and be a Mitch Hyatt 2.0 is a tall order so expectations should have been tempered.

The 2017 offseason should be much of the same to Pollard with regards to adding strength and refining technique in order to adapt fully to the college game.

From the 2016 Season Preview:

How did we do?

The prediction was pretty much the case, and expected growth from Anchrum will really help with the rotation of the line in 2017.

The Rest of The Crop (Z. Giella, N. Green, G. Cervenka, C. Stewart, C. Reeves, L. Tisch, S. Penner)

The rest of the offensive linemen to be reviewed here will be done so with generalities. Giella (32 Snaps, 5 GP), Green (41 Snaps, 5 GP), Cervenka (61 Snaps, 6 GP), and the walk-ons Tisch (26 Snaps, 3 GP) and Penner (26 Snaps, 3 GP) logged some snaps in mop up duty this year which could help serve as some teaching points as spring practice approaches. And while the smart money is on Falcinelli to get the look to replace Guillermo, I really would like to see Cervenka progress to become and interior force. Giella will also have the same opportunity but given Cervenka’s toolset, I am just enamored with the idea of him at center. Green needs a strong offseason to push for more playing time on the interior of the line.

Hopefully for Cade Stewart and Chandler Reeves, the red shirt year was spent well by learning the playbook and adding good weight. Reeves was forced into the red shirt after and unfortunate knee injury, so at this point he hasn’t had a chance to run with the scout team and adjust to the speed of the game. He will be a multi-year project at tackle. Stewart will need to continue to add good weight and adjust his game as well as an interior lineman.

Final Assessment and the Look Ahead

While the 2016 offensive line didn’t live up to the lofty expectation given to them in the preseason, there were flashes that show what this unit could be like given cohesion and drive from all 5 men on the field. As the season progressed, a more diverse game plan (i.e., not inside zone over and over again) assisted in helping the running game off the ground. This diversification will be required even more in 2017.

We will be adding some interesting young pieces in the 2017 class with the versatile Blake Vinson, the mauler Matt Bockhorst, and the titanic Noah DeHond. The outlook is still bright for the hogs up front, and we will need their full effort in 2017 as we break in new pieces to the skill groups.

Final Grade: B+ in pass pro, B- in run blocking, B average