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2017 Clemson Football Season Preview: Offensive Line

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NCAA Football: Fiesta Bowl-Ohio State vs Clemson Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson brings a lot back on the offensive line, returning six players who’ve combined for eighty-three starts. Two of those players, junior Mitch Hyatt and RS senior Tyrone Crowder, earned preseason All-ACC honors. The unit helped the Clemson offense rush for over 2500 yards while giving up only twenty sacks on nearly six hundred passing attempts.

CFP National Championship Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

With seasoned center and locker room presence Jay Guillermo graduated there’s a hole in the middle of the line, but Justin Falcinelli looks pencilled in as the day one starter and has performed well at times as a guard. Hyatt is your prototypical left tackle and after starting the last two years could easily be the rare offensive lineman to declare for the draft with a strong 2017. Crowder is the same phone booth mauler he has been in the running game but has spent years learning to use technique to compensate for his subpar quickness in pass protection. The biggest question at this point is if Crowder’s conditioning has improved to the point he can stay on the field more often. Taylor Hearn is a reliable workhorse who blocks better in space than a man his size has any right to. The unit as a whole has excellent size, with all starters but Crowder listed at over 6’4” (6’2”) and all but Hyatt listed over 315 lbs (302).

At right tackle Pollard looks set to step into a starting role, with Anchrum serving as an athletic swing tackle, training on both sides of the line. The duo shared the teams Offensive Rookie of The Year honor last season, with fellow freshman lineman John Simpson earning some minutes at guard. Simpson has impressed throughout the offseason and is pushing his way up the depth chart. The sophomore OL class seems set to improve after a full offseason in the system. Maverick Morris returns for his fifth year and looks set to be the first lineman off the bench again this year. The veteran is an invaluable glue player who’s picked up a few starts over the course of his career. He can give you at least average level starter production at either guard spot, and while more of a right than left tackle he’s athletic enough to survive on the edges. The same can be said of much of Clemson’s depth, meaning injuries at center or left tackle could add up with a quickness.

With so much returning what are the main concerns for the line in 2017? Let’s start with snapping the ball, which Falcinelli only began doing pretty recently. It showed in the spring game.

Hopefully Falcinelli has been able to get time snapping in with all three of the candidates for the QB position throughout the offseason.

Across the offensive line Clemson will have to show an ability to generate better push in 2017. While the unit was nearly at the top the ACC in sacks allowed (giving up three more than NC State over the course of two extra games) the line also ranked a paltry 94th in Bill C’s power success rate. Clemson has been known for a while for going to the QB run when it needs to get a couple yards, as NC State coach Dave Doeren acknowledges here before the national championship game. Many times it took the form of a QB draw with stick attached. We know Bryant can run, but it remains to be seen if the offense can rely on him executing RPO’s reliably. Should Clemson want to lean on the QB run as heavily as years past it will likely require the offensive line to be able to run the offenses core inside zone and power/counter schemes to move the chains.

The loss of Guillermo may force Clemson to alter how they run counter. While most teams run counter with either the backside guard and tackle or a tight end and a guard pulling, Clemson was able to pull their center. This winds up leaving the guards to block ahead, playing to their strengths (or just allowing them to be run over slowly).

If Falcinelli can’t make the snap and pull Clemson will be forced to adjust one of its core running schemes. It also remains to be seen how much longer in the pocket Bryant will require than Watson. The quick release and ability to scramble to keep a play alive that Watson offered can make a lot of lines look good. With so much of the skill position production from last season gone the offensive line is at least a known quantity. Settle the center position and show improvement in short yardage running and it could easily be a team strength.