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Clemson Football 2018 Spring Preview: Offensive Line

It all starts up front

NCAA Football: Clemson at South Carolina Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Clemson’s offensive line returns quite a bit of talent after ending last season on a sour note. Throughout the rest of the year the unit drew praise from Swinney, particularly for the players versatility. The group was better at run blocking than pass blocking, and were well served by a shift to a more run heavy system this year.

Left tackle Mitch Hyatt, a stalwart since stepping on campus, was given the 2017 Jacobs Blocking Trophy as the conferences best offensive lineman. Center Justin Falcinelli returns after a first-team all ACC nomination. Last year left guard was manned primarily by Taylor Hearn, who has declared for the NFL draft after a first-team all ACC campaign. Tyrone Crowder, who graduated, started at right guard, although he struggled to stay on the field at 340 lbs. As a result Crowder played significantly less time than Hearn, Hyatt and Falcinelli. Sean Pollard and Tremayne Anchrum split time at right tackle last year, and had about as many snaps as Crowder. Right tackle was up in the air and a position of weakness along the offensive line for most of 2017. Maverick Morris was the first lineman off the bench and played every position but center, logging 400 snaps in his fifth year in the program.

Anchrum will be given the first shot at right tackle this year while Pollard will be given a shot at right guard. Several options exist at left guard, with John Simpson in the lead as spring practice begins. Simpson played a bit as a freshman in 2016 then contributed over three hundred snaps despite never getting a start last year. Behind Simpson a handful of talented underclassmen are pushing for playing time.

Clemson rotated offensive linemen more than years prior last season, particularly against lesser competition. While Clemson undoubtedly lost depth Clemson has some experience amongst the backups. Center Gage Cervenka, a converted defensive tackle and former wrestler, and OL Cade Stewart were both able to get around 100 snaps last year. In addition four star recruit Matt Bockhorst is coming off a redshirt year and has drawn praise “as a mauler”. Fellow Ohioan Jackson Carman is a five star recruit and will almost certainly see the field somehow. Carman is reportedly in the mix at guard. Offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell has cross trained offensive linemen for years, and reports of guys practicing at a position in the spring might not translate to them playing there in the fall. However the dust settles, the offensive line figures to be relatively large, with only Anchrum (290) listed under 300 lbs.

While the left tackle and center jobs are probably set in stone the remaining three spots are up in the air. What combinations Clemson uses will be interesting to watch during the spring game, though the splitting of offensive linemen will limit how much we can draw from that. Caldwell has been quite willing to move guys around positionally to get his best five players on the field. The competition for right tackle and either guard spot will likely remain open into fall camp.