Other than quarterback, the center position is the most important position on any offense. The center has a lot of responsibilities, including making all the blocking calls and ensuring everyone up front understands their assignment and that it is communicated properly to them.
For Clemson, it will enter the 2020 season with a new starter at center following the departure of Sean Pollard, a former permanent team captain who started all 15 games at the position last season and earned second-team All-ACC honors in the process.
Fifth-year senior Cade Stewart is Pollard’s projected replacement heading into the season. Although he has only started one game in his college career, Clemson’s coaching staff is confident he is ready to step in, and if his strong performance in fall camp is any indication, then he is indeed.
“He’s doing awesome,” offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said recently. “Not really missing a beat from what we had in the past. He’s played a lot of football, but now he knows it’s his turn.”
Stewart has been a backup at center the last three seasons while logging 698 career snaps in 37 games. The former Daniel High School standout saw action in 13 games last season, recording a career-high 335 snaps.
Head coach Dabo Swinney has said Stewart is one of the more powerful players the Tigers have had on the offensive line, and the coaches love what he brings to the table as a leader on and off the field.
“We’re counting on him from a leadership standpoint,” Elliott said. “He’s always been a physical guy, he’s always been a guy that can move people, so it’s been good.”
Stewart will be surrounded by two other new starters up front in left guard Matt Bockhorst and right guard Will Putnam.
While Bockhorst is a savvy veteran who knows the game and has a good bit of experience under his belt as a redshirt junior, Elliott says Stewart has been helpful to the younger Putnam, a true sophomore who played 192 snaps across 11 games in 2019.
“He’s been good for Putnam to his right, being able to communicate with him because he knows the guard position,” Elliott said. “And then you’ve got Bockhorst to his left, so he doesn’t really have to necessarily tell Bockhorst anything because Bockhorst knows. Bockhorst is probably one of the smartest football players we’ve got.”
Elliott was very pleased with what he saw from Stewart in fall camp, and overall, he sees similarities between this year’s first-team O-line unit and last year’s.
“It’s really encouraging to see where Cade Stewart is,” Elliott said. “We’ve just got to continue to work on the consistency and the cohesion, but so far, man, those guys have done a great job. In my opinion, very comparable to the guys that we had last year with all of their experience as well.”
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