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2019 Clemson Football Season Preview: Offensive Line

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Will this be the best OL of the Dabo Swinney era?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: DEC 29 CFP Semifinal at the Cotton Bowl Classic - Clemson v Notre Dame

Clemson’s offense has garnered no shortage of hype ahead of the upcoming football season. While the majority of media coverage has focused on Trevor Lawrence and his incredible array of skill position players, the best unit on the offensive side of the ball could be the offensive Line. A unit that has perhaps been unfairly maligned by some over the past few years, the talented and experienced group has a chance to be a driving force in another potential playoff run.

This is a group that oozes with experience, with 4 of 5 starting Lineman draft eligible after this year. That experience, especially on the interior, will create a balanced offense capable of scoring in bunches on anyone. On the recruiting trail, Clemson’s lack of elite OL development has been used against them on more then one occasion. However, it’s not far-fetched to think all 4 of the eligible lineman could be drafted. That type of draft success is likely predicated on a huge season from the unit, but as previously stated it’s a group that’s more than capable of performing up to that high standard.

Tackles

Mitch Hyatt, a 4-year starter and incredibly reliable left tackle has graduated, leaving a huge void on the left side to be filled. Up steps former 5-star tackle prospect Jackson Carman, who the Tigers shockingly pulled from Ohio on signing day nearly 2 years ago. The questions with Carman have never been about talent or athleticism but rather his weight. He arrived as a Freshman at nearly 370 pounds (possibly more), and has faced a 2-year battle with his weight and eating habits to re-shape his body. By all accounts he has succeeded in doing so, as his body composition has drastically improved and he will be playing at around 335 pounds this season. Early camp returns are incredibly promising, and Carman could even prove to be an upgrade in his first year starting.

At right tackle, Tremayne Anchrum does not possess ideal size for a tackle at a mere 6’2, however, he does have considerable arm length and experience. At times Anchrum looked like Clemson’s best pass protector last season. Large, physical edge players can give Anchrum a lot of trouble due to his size, but it’s been an issue that Anchrum has improved upon each year. Look for another solid season from the multi-year starter.

Depth at the tackles spot on the other hand will be at a premium this season, with only 1 true tackle available behind the starters. Fortunately, that player has shown significant potential in his fairly brief time on campus. Jordan McFadden has impressed this Spring/Summer, especially regarding his athleticism. He will contribute and play a big role this season as a backup. Look for Sean Pollard, Blake Vinson, or even John Simpson to fill in at tackle in a pinch.

Guards

Clemson also happens to bring back an elite guard combination both athletically, and physically in John Simpson and Gage Cervenka. The 4th and 5th year seniors are primed for big seasons, and both will play large roles in being able to run the ball effectively. Simpson might have the highest potential of any lineman in the unit, possessing great athleticism and movement skills. With a strong season Simpson could vault himself into a day 2 draft pick. Before he does that he must take the next step, and much of that needed step has to do with both his body control and physicality. Essentially, Simpson needs to fully harness his physical gifts. Cervenka is a different type of lineman than Simpson, and is much more reliant on his strength. It is rumored that he could make a run at the pro combine record for number bench press reps, and that strength shows up in the run game for the former defensive tackle prospect.

The 2016-2017 offense received a lot of hype only to disappoint, or frustrate at times. This was largely due to the inability to run the ball on a consistent basis. Having players like Simpson and Cervenka make that possibility far less likely to reoccur. Both play with lots of nastiness and power, and both hold mounds of experience.

Behind them, will be redshirt sophomore Matt Bockhorst, freshman Will Putnam, and redshirt Junior Cade Stewart. Bockhorst has had a fantastic camp, and will likely be the biggest backup contributor on the inside. Putnam has a lot of potential and will cross-train at center in addition to receiving reps at guard. Stewart is not as physically gifted as other members of the position group, however, he will be relied upon to contribute due to the length of time he was spent in the program. Another name to watch is Blake Vinson, who will also likely rep at tackle. If Vinson can become a contributor at either position, it will be a major boost to Clemson’s offensive line depth as a whole.

Centers

As QT stated in the Tweet embedded above, senior Sean Pollard is THE center for this football team. Pollard has the ability, talent, athleticism, and experience to be an upgrade over last year’s starting center Justin Falcinelli. Standing at 6’5, Pollard will need to ensure that he plays with consistent leverage. Pollard will also be able to play guard, and even tackle if absolutely necessary.

Will Putnam will also likely rep at center, with fellow 2019 signee Hunter Rayburn likely headed toward a full-time center role as well. Putnam is expected to contribute this year and has already been deemed one of the strongest players on the team. Rayburn was not as highly-touted as Putnam, and faces a much steeper physical and mental curve before playing significant time.

Summary

This Clemson Offensive Line has the chance to be a special unit in 2019. Despite the fact that they will be replacing two 4+ year players, they are potentially replacing them with upgrades that at the very least were more highly-touted coming out of high school. While the line lacks depth in certain areas, the starting 5 will, in all likelihood, be the best starting group Dabo Swinney has ever rolled out. A terrific blend of both talent and experience, the 2019 Clemson offensive line will be the driving force behind possibly the greatest Clemson offense in school history.