To win football games, you must be able to do two things – run the football and stop the run.
According to Athlon’s ACC Preview magazine, the Tigers should be able to do both in 2017. The publication has the Tigers ranked with the best offensive line and the best defensive line in the ACC.
On the offensive side, Clemson returns four starters, including future first-round draft choice Mitch Hyatt at left tackle. He has been an All-ACC selection as a freshman and as a sophomore, along with two-time All-ACC right guard Tyrone Crowder. Also back is Taylor Hearn at left guard and Sean Pollard at right tackle, who started the last seven games of the season after Jake Fruhmorgen left the team at mid-season.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Tigers return All-American Christian Wilkins, who moved back inside in the spring, along with ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year Dexter Lawrence. Fiesta Bowl MVP Clelin Ferrell is back at defensive end, while Austin Bryant will be the other bookend after he missed six games last year due to a broken foot.
Clemson’s four starters on the defensive line combined to produce 38 tackles for loss and 18.5 sacks in 2016. They played a big role in why Clemson led the ACC in total defense, scoring defense, tackles for loss and was second in sacks.
“We just got a lot of guys that have been around for a little while,” Wilkins said back in the spring. “You know me, Austin, Clelin, have been around for years, Chris (Register) and Richard (Yeargin) they’ve been around four years and whatnot. So yeah, I know there are definitely a lot of guys who have been able to play a lot of football and have been in the system for a while, some guys who are getting more comfortable and we got some young guys around too … Young guys coming along and trying to go after it.”
Though the defensive line did lose defensive tackle Carlos Watkins to the NFL, reserve defensive tackle Scott Pagano to a transfer (Oregon) and reserve defensive end Richard Yeargin to a neck injury he suffered in a car accident last month, it comes back virtually in tack from the year before. However, there are concerns with depth issues at defensive end after Lasamuel Davis announced his plans to transfer earlier this week.
On the offensive line the concern centers around the center position, where the Tigers have to replace two-time All-ACC center Jay Guillermo. He has been the Tigers rock and team leader up front the last two years.
Justin Falcinelli and Gage Cervenka appear to be in a pretty good battle to be his replacement when fall training camp begins on Aug. 4.
“On the offensive line, no one knows who you are unless you mess up,” Falcinelli said during the spring. “It can be (pressure). The quarterback probably has more pressure. Most people don’t know who I am.”
However, everyone is watching because replacing Guillermo is a big deal at Clemson. Co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott definitely thinks it is. He said they had a comfort level with Guillermo, who was quick at reading defenses and getting the offensive line lined up.
Elliott says the center position sets the tempo in Clemson’s high-powered offense, which is especially important because of the speed of their offense.
“There is no doubt Falcinelli can fill his shoes,” Elliott said. “Obviously, he is going to have to learn like Jay had to learn, but he has the skill set to do it.”
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