Robbie Caldwell feels better about his right tackle position than he did late in the 2016 season when Jake Fruhmorgen left the team. Of course, it helped that true freshman Sean Pollard took off in Fruhmorgen’s absence despite being inexperienced.
Pollard started in the place of Fruhmorgen in the Tigers’ win over Syracuse after Fruhmorgen missed the game at the time due to a shoulder injury he suffered at the end of the Florida State game the week before. When Fruhmorgen took a leave of absence from the team a week later, Pollard became the permanent starter and started the last seven games, including in the Tigers’ national championship win over Alabama.
“Obviously, we are very proud of Sean stepping in as a true freshman,” Caldwell said. “I’m not above doing that. I have done it before. I did it way before Mitch (Hyatt). It is all about how they handle the crowd and their intelligence. Some people cannot put the two together. They are a direct correlation. If they are nervous then they are not going to be able to determine what they are going to do.
“Sean is just so mature and learned quickly. The same with Tremayne (Anchrum), and he has had to play both sides, which is a little more difficult for him, but out of necessity we had to do that. … Most people in the country did not think he could play tackle, but he has done a great job. He just happens to be behind Mitch right now.”
Caldwell admitted Fruhmorgen’s departure put the Tigers in a bad situation as far as depth goes, but they were able to persevere without missing too much of a beat. Caldwell says it will be an interesting task to see how they build some depth at the tackle position moving forward.
Besides Pollard, Anchrum and Taylor Hearn, there also is Maverick Morris, who like Hearn can play inside and out and did a good job of playing both positions once Fruhmorgen stepped out of the lineup.
“Maverick Morris, what a catch-all he has been for us,” Caldwell said. “He can play either side. But he has been a regular with rotating with Tyrone (Crowder) at guard, but he did not hesitate. He moved out there and filled in our void. He has been fantastic.”
MITCH HYATT: 6-5, 295, JUNIOR, LEFT TACKLE. Hyatt has arguably outperformed the hype that came attached to his five-star billing and first-team All-American status as a recruit. Heading into what could be his last season at Clemson, Hyatt’s career thus far has gone as well as he could have hoped — in fact, it’s been nearly flawless.
In 2015, Hyatt became the first true freshman to start a season opener for Clemson since Phil Prince in 1944 and the first true freshman offensive lineman named to an all-conference team when he made the ACC’s third team. The 1,049 total snaps he tallied that year nearly doubled Barry Richardson’s school record for snaps by a true freshman offensive lineman.
Ever since he set foot on the field, Hyatt has performed on the level of the country’s elite tackles. He has started 29 of 30 career games and registered 69.5 knockdown blocks. The 6-foot-5, 295-pounder from Suwanee, Ga., has yet to allow a sack and has been called for holding only one time in 2,043 career snaps.
Last season, Hyatt earned first-team All-ACC honors after stamping 32.5 knockdowns and grading out at 90 percent or higher in more than half of his starts. He punctuated his sophomore season with a 90-percent grade and three pancakes in the national championship victory over Alabama.
TAYLOR HEARN: 6-5, 325, REDSHIRT JUNIOR, LEFT GUARD. Hearn entered his first season as a starter in 2016 with just 180 career snaps on his resume. He proceeded to log more than five times that total as a redshirt sophomore.
After waiting for an increased opportunity to play while making himself able and readily available to play anywhere along the offensive line, the dedicated and versatile 6-foot-5, 325-pound grinder got his shot last season at left guard. He anchored the left side of Clemson’s line along with Mitch Hyatt and is expected to do so again this season.
Hearn embodies the characteristics of the quintessential offensive lineman. He’s a tough, rugged workhorse that has the type of mean streak to make an O-line coach smile. His strength lies as a run blocker with the might to drive defenders on their heels and get to the second level. Those traits showed up in the stat sheet as Hearn started all 15 games and amassed 1,022 snaps with 32.5 pancakes, which tied for second on the team. He began the season with a bang, garnering offensive player of the game and ACC Offensive Lineman of the Week honors after his first career start against Auburn, and finished on a high note with three knockdowns across 99 snaps in the national championship victory over Alabama.
TYRONE CROWDER, 6-2, 340, REDSHIRT SENIOR, RIGHT GUARD. Crowder might be the most underappreciated player on the Clemson football team. The two-year starter has been good enough to earn All-ACC accolades in both seasons, but his name is seldom mentioned when the Tigers’ offensive line is brought up.
The 6-foot-2, 340-pound guard decided to return to Clemson for his senior year when he could have gone to the NFL, according to head coach Dabo Swinney. With Crowder back, the offensive line is stable on both sides as left tackle Mitch Hyatt, left guard Taylor Hearn and right tackle Sean Pollard.
He started every game on an offensive line last year which allowed just 13 sacks in the regular season and 20 for the year. He recorded over 800 snaps in 15 games.
In 2015, Crowder had 16 knockdowns while starting in 12 of the 13 games he played in. He was named to the All-ACC third team after that season.
JUSTIN FALCINELLI: 6-4, 315, REDSHIRT JUNIOR, CENTER. Clemson’s newest center, who has the task of replacing two-time All-ACC center Jay Guillermo, does not believe he has as much pressure on him as the four quarterbacks who are vying to replace Deshaun Watson.
However, everyone is watching because replacing Guillermo was a big deal at Clemson. Co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott definitely thinks it is a big deal. 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. Falcinelli just has to do it faster. Offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell says as smart as Falcinelli is, he is sometimes unsure of himself and indecisive when he is making his calls.
In other words, Falcinelli just needs to trust his gut. Elliott, however, likes what he has seen from his new center so far.
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