There is no doubt that the No. 1 concern for the Clemson coaching staff heading into fall camp is who will be the starting quarterback. Kelly Bryant, Zerrick Cooper and Hunter Johnson will be in a three-man competition to see who will get the first opportunity to replace two-time Heisman Trophy Finalist Deshaun Watson under center.
However, as important as the quarterback position is to the team, there is a sense of calmness about the situation for Dabo Swinney. The Tigers’ head coach feels, no matter whom the quarterback is, they have a group around him who has the experience and the respect it can lead his football team while the quarterback situation works itself out.
“We have some proven guys outside. I think our (running) backs are going to be outstanding, but it is all going to start with the offensive line,” Swinney said.
Clemson’s offensive line returns four starters off a group that wore down Alabama’s talented defensive front in the national championship game as the Tigers rallied from two scores down on two separate occasions in their 35-31 victory. Of those four guys returning, two were First-Team All-ACC players in 2016 in left tackle Mitch Hyatt and right guard Tyrone Crowder. Both were also named to the All-ACC Preseason Team on Wednesday.
Also back is left guard Taylor Hearn and right tackle Sean Pollard, who started the last seven games after Jake Fruhmorgen left the team halfway through the season.
“This will be, in my opinion, the best offensive line we have had,” Swinney said.
Of course the only loss up front is a big one to replace in two-time All-ACC center Jay Guillermo. However, Swinney is confident fourth-year junior Justin Falcinelli will be able to step in and do a good job.
“We lost one guy off a national championship team,” Swinney said. “Right now, the guy that is taking his place is a fourth-year junior in Falcinelli, who has a ton of experience. So you basically got all of your guys back and Falcinelli played a lot and Maverick Morris is an incredibly value player to us and then you have three true freshman that played last year and two of them that started at different times in Sean Pollard, Tremayne Anchrum and John Simpson.
“Those three guys are now sophomores and played in fifteen games against high level competition on the practice field and on game day. So the versatility we are going to have in that offensive line and the depth and the knowledge and the experience is where it is all going to start. Those are the guys that as they go, we go.”
And of course all of that will be good news for whoever the quarterback is as he will be trying to feel his way as the starter.
“It’s not like we have a new quarterback coming in that is going to have to run for his life because he does not have a left tackle or he has a freshman left tackle,” Swinney said. “We don’t have that situation. Hopefully, those guys will step up and provide vocal leadership and also that calming force for that quarterback position as it unfolds.”
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