When Clemson has been at its absolute best in the past six seasons, there is one area on offense that has been the difference maker.
No, it is not the quarterback position, despite having Heisman Trophy Finalist in Deshaun Watson and Trevor Lawrence. No, it is not at running back either, where the Tigers have had record setting running backs in Wayne Gallman and Travis Etienne.
And no, it is not at wide receiver, a position that seems to have at least one Clemson player a year drafted into the NFL.
The area that makes or breaks the Tigers’ championship run starts up front with the offensive line.
“The key for us is going to be the development up front,” Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said Monday on the Packer & Durham Show on the ACC Network. “Last year, we really had five guys and really six that we felt like could win for us at a high level. I just think we are so much further along.
“All of those guys were young. We are a little more battled tested. They have some scares and wounds on them, and a little more thick skin. A little more knowledgeable.”
The Tigers return three starters—tackle Jordan McFadden and guards Matt Bockhorst and Will Putnam—but they must replace Jackson Carman at tackle and Cade Stewart at center. McFadden will likely replace Carman at left tackle, while Walker Parks will get the nod at right tackle where McFadden started last year.
Redshirt sophomore Hunter Rayburn comes out of the spring as the leading candidate to be the starting center, but it sounds like true freshman Ryan Linthicum will come into fall camp in position to compete for the job.
As Swinney said, he is also very pleased with the development of his young linemen, such as Paul Tchio, Mason Trotter, Tayquon Johnson, Mitchell Mayes, Trent Howard and Marcus Tate.
“I am excited about what we are going to be able to do this summer and into camp because I think when we get to September and it is time to play, I think we are going to have ten or eleven offensive linemen that can go win for us,” Swinney said. “That is what we are used to. That is when we have been at our best when we have had that type of functional depth in the OL.
“So, we have a good group. We have some young guys come in this spring that got our attention and we have a couple of more coming this summer that I think could add to it.”
Clemson will open the season on Sept. 4 when it plays Georgia in the Duke’s Mayo Classic at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte.
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