Clemson Football 2020 Preview: Tigers’ first group looked good despite replacing 4 starters up front
Though Clemson is replacing four starters on its offensive line, head coach Dabo Swinney said the offensive line did not miss a beat in the nine practices they had before the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down in the spring.
Swinney was pleased with what he saw during spring practice from the first-team offensive line, which features new starters in guards Matt Bockhorst and Will Putnam, center Cade Stewart and right tackle Jordan McFadden. The new line is tasked with replacing All-ACC performers Gage Cervenka, Sean Pollard, John Simpson and Tremayne Anchrum.
Simpson and Anchrum became the first Clemson offensive linemen selected in the NFL Draft in six years, with Simpson going in the fourth round to the Raiders and Anchrum to the Rams in the seventh round.
“Offensively, that first offensive line, we didn’t miss a beat this spring,” Swinney said recently.
Although Stewart, Bockhorst, McFadden and Putnam are new to their starting roles, they have played a lot in reserve capacity, combining for 1,821 snaps thus far in their careers. Stewart is a redshirt senior, while Bockhorst is a redshirt junior. McFadden will be a redshirt sophomore and Putman is a true sophomore.
Swinney credits offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell for helping get them ready to go alongside Jackson Carman, Clemson’s anchor at left tackle who started all 15 games in 2019.
“I mean, it’s a really, really good group,” Swinney said. “That speaks to the job Robbie’s done, the development, those guys being ready, getting guys experience when we can get them. Bockhorst has played a lot of snaps, Cade has played a lot of snaps, Putnam got to play a good bit last year, Jordan McFadden, same thing. I think we’ve got a chance to be as good as we’ve ever been at tackle. So, our first group, really, really good.”
Meanwhile, Clemson’s second-team offensive line is what Swinney described as a “work in progress” with players such as Tayquon Johnson, Hunter Rayburn, Mason Trotter and Kaleb Boateng.
Johnson worked at right guard in the spring after switching from defensive tackle, while Rayburn and Trotter are pushing Stewart for the starting spot at center and Boateng is cross-training at tackle and guard.
The Tigers have three true freshmen O-linemen who enrolled early in Mitchell Mayes, Bryn Tucker and Paul Tchio, and the second-team unit will get a shot in the arm when junior Blake Vinson returns from a patella injury. He is expected to work at both guard and center.
“The second group, work in progress,” Swinney said. “The good news is our second group is our second group. So, we’ve got time to develop them. We’ll get Blake Vinson back, and when we get him back that’s going to give us another guy that’s going to bridge that gap. Moving Tayquon Johnson over to guard was a great move for us, it’s a great move for him. I think he’s got a bright future there.
“But all those young guys, their heads spun all spring long. They’re probably all happy right now to get the hosepipe out of their mouth. And now, I tell you what, with these meetings we have and the opportunity we’ve got, we really have a chance to get those guys really caught up from a knowledge standpoint and ready to go. But it’s a good group.”
–Gavin Oliver contributed to this story
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