Though Clemson returns four seniors on the offensive line that have a combined 61 starts, there is still one question that needs to be answered and it comes at the most important position.
For the first time in four seasons, the Tigers will have a new left tackle where they have to replace two-time All-American Mitch Hyatt.
Hyatt started all but one game in his Clemson career and played in a school record 54 games overall.
He also set a new mark for career snaps and was the first Clemson offensive lineman to win the Jacobs Trophy twice, the ACC’s premiere award for an offensive lineman.
Though Hyatt’s shoes seem to be tough ones to fill, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney thinks they have the perfect guy for the job. Sophomore Jackson Carman (6-5, 355) will head into fall camp as the projected starter.
“I personally believe that Jackson is ready. He is eager,” Swinney said. “He has had a great summer. Last year at this time, he was trying to figure it all out. It was just a grind and there is so much accountability that a lot these guys have to go through. His maturity level and his understanding, he has a very clear picture in his head now of what camp looks like and what the season looks like.”
Carman also had a full season to watch how it is supposed to be done. The benefits of a young player playing behind a seasoned veteran like Hyatt is watching and acquiring the same habits on what it takes to be successful.
“He had Mitch Hyatt to watch every day. How he practiced, how he met, how he took care of his body, how he responded to coaching, how he responded to success, adversity and whatever it might have been,” Swinney said. “He has a very clear picture in his mind.”
Carman also has a little experience. As a true freshman, he saw action as a reserve. He took 209 snaps at the left tackle position while playing in 13 games, including 34 at Boston College when Hyatt had to leave the game with an injury.
He held his own against one of the best defensive ends in the country last year in BC’s Zach Allen.
“Athletically, football skill wise, he can be great,” Swinney said about Carman. “He is really a special talent. I think he is eager to go prove that he can lock it down.”
The Tigers have other options at left tackle, as well. Blake Vinson had a good spring and is the No. 2 guy there heading into camp, while left guard John Simpson and right tackle Tremayne Anchrum have been crossed trained at left tackle.
“We have a lot of flexibility up front, but it is certainly going to start with Jackson,” Swinney said. “I don’t have any doubt that he is going to seize the moment.”
Clemson will begin fall practice on Aug. 2.