When comparing last year’s depth chart heading into the 2019 season with what Clemson has this year, it’s easy to see there is not much of a drop off, or any at all, in terms of talent and potential production in 2020.
This fall, the Tigers return 11 combined starters on offense and defense, plus its starting kicker and punter from a year ago, along with plenty of talented and experienced depth. Again, they are in perfect position to win the ACC and contend for another berth in the College Football Playoff.
Last year, Clemson’s offensive line was one of the best it has had in the Dabo Swinney era, in terms of overall depth and experience. That is not the case this year.
The Tigers have to replace four starters up front on the offensive line, but offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell feels good about who will replace Sean Pollard at center, Gage Cervenka at right guard, John Simpson at left guard and Tremayne Anchrum at right tackle. Of course, Jackson Carman will return as the starting left tackle after starting every game there in 2019.
Based off playing time in 2019, it would appear redshirt junior Matt Bockhorst is likely to get the start at left guard, redshirt senior Cade Stewart at center, sophomore Will Putnam will likely get the nod at right guard and redshirt sophomore Jordan McFadden at right tackle. They all got decent playing time as backups in 2019.
This past spring, Clemson worked three true freshmen on the offensive line, who enrolled in January. Swinney said Paul Tchio, Mitchell Mayes and Bryn Tucker did their best to compete. Redshirt freshman Tayquon Johnson moved over from the defensive line to help at guard, while redshirt freshman Mason Trotter is also in the mix and working with the second team. Redshirt freshman Hunter Rayburn is working at center.
“The second group is a 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.”
Swinney was pleased with what he saw during spring practice from the first-team offensive line. 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.
“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.”
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