Clemson returns twelve starters from last seasons championship team, tied for 86th in the country according to Phil Steele’s rankings. With this attrition the lines on either side of the ball are where Clemson gets the benefit of continuity. Of the five Tigers listed on the preseason All ACC team four play on the line, two each on offense and defense.
On offense Tyrone Crowder and Mitch Hyatt get the nod for their work at Right Guard and Left Tackle respectively. The pair were both recruited as four star prospects and have been starters the last three years. While each has holes in their game to improve on they both are excellent starters with NFL potential.
In addition to their more highly acclaimed peers each side of the line returns crucial depth. On offense starting Left Guard Taylor Hearn returns as well as Right Tackle Sean Pollard, though it must be mentioned Pollard only began starting midseason after the departure of Fruhmorgen. Veteran Maverick Morris returns as a versatile backup capable of playing guard or tackle in a pinch, although he is best served inside. Tremayne Anchrum is an athletic backup tackle, though like many young offensive linemen he needs to add strength to generate push in the running game. Should Falcinelli lose the starting center job he will almost certainly rotate in at all three interior line spots. If John Simpson have taken the leap his impressive play early in the year hinted at he could provide depth at either guard spot. The offensive line should be more than fine provided a center is found and the top three tackles can remain healthy.
On defense the sensational pair of defensive tackles Dexter Lawrence and Christian Wilkins both get well deserved accolades. Wilkins can start at any position along the line at this level and give you excellent production while Lawrence is the prototypical dominant “war daddy” in the middle. Both of them look like men among boys and present a nightmarish matchup together. Each has performed excellently since starting as true freshman and could easily be first round picks after three years in orange and purple.
Rotational defensive end Richard Yeargin was unfortunately lost for the season in a car accident, but thankfully he is fine and we wish him a speedy recovery. In addition, the loss of Scott Pagano to transfer (we wish him the best in Oregon) hurts depth. Still there are not as many holes as last year, when Wilkins was forced to spend huge chunks of the season at defensive end. Albert Huggins returns as a solid rotational defensive tackle looking to step up in his third year. Nyles Pickney was a relatively highly acclaimed recruit who redshirted last season and is currently listed as a backup. Their offseason growth along with Jabril Robinson’s will determine how deep Clemson’s interior DL is.
At defensive end Clelin Ferrell returns for his second season as a starter after flashing serious upside. Meanwhile Austin Bryant is promoted to starter after serving capably as a rotational player and spot starter the past to years. Both are athletic enough to routinely play in a three or two point stance and serve as a pair of reliable bookends. Consensus top 150 recruit Xavier Kelly is finished with his redshirt season and despite being left off the summer depth chart could easily crack the two deep after Yeargin’s injury. Junior Chris Register has played sparingly at defensive end since transitioning to the position from outside linebacker and should be poised for more playing time after an offseason to improve. True freshman four star Jordan Williams could avoid the redshirt as well. What the defensive end depth lacks in experience it makes up for in athletic potential. After losing a pair of first round ends prior to this year, and the entire starting defensive line the year before that, the loses heading into 2017 should be manageable.
The loss of defensive line coaches Dan Brooks (retirement) and Marion Hobby (Jacksonville Jaguars) does raise a red flag but the past few seasons Venable’s defensive staff has been able to develop athletic young defensive linemen into valuable contributors. Provided one or two of the unknown qualities along the defensive line have made strides and a center is found Clemson should be able to look at the lines on either side of the ball as a strength.