After starting all 12 games at left guard a season ago, Matt Bockhorst could be sliding over this fall.
The competition to replace the departed Cade Stewart at center is still ongoing as Clemson heads out of fall camp. Hunter Rayburn, Mason Trotter and others are still firmly in the mix, Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said, but Bockhorst has gotten his share of first-team reps there and got what offensive coordinator Tony Elliott called “some good work” at center in the Tigers’ first scrimmage over the weekend.
So Bockhorst seemingly has as good a chance to win that job as anybody else, which begs the question: Should that happen, what will the Tigers do at left guard?
Sophomore Paul Tchio was listed as Bockhorst’s backup on Clemson’s pre-camp depth chart, so he’s certainly an option. But the Tigers have also spent a lot of time getting a true freshman ready just in case.
Marcus Tate, a four-star signee, has been getting first-team reps at left guard when Bockhorst has worked at center during periods of practice that have been open to the media. Swinney said Tate has also been getting some reps with the twos. Those are important reps that seem to indicate the Tigers are preparing the 6-foot-5, 290-pounder for significant game action after Tate arrived on campus in January as an early enrollee.
Tate, whom Swinney said has also repped some at tackle, is one of several offensive linemen Clemson is cross-training in an attempt to create more versatility up front. That includes Rayburn and Trotter, who could play guard if center doesn’t work out, Swinney said.
“There’s competition everywhere,” Swinney said.
The Tigers would be giving up some experience at that left guard spot if Bockhorst moves to center. Bockhorst, a fifth-year senior, has played 1,352 career snaps at Clemson. Tchio, Rayburn, Trotter and Tate have combined for 370.
Yet the depth on the line isn’t as green as it was this time last year. Throw in Walker Parks, who’s set to take over as the starting right tackle, and there were a handful of freshmen who used last season to get experience, which is paying off heading into their sophomore seasons.
“The good news is we’ve got more guys that can play for us,” Swinney said of the offensive line. “So I’m excited about that. We’re still a work in progress with two and half weeks here before our first game, but I think we’ve got a lot more guys that can go in and get the job done for us than we had at this time last year.”