Spring preview: Focus on key positions on Clemson O-line


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Carman is a former 5-star prospect poised to step into a key role this spring.
Carman is a former 5-star prospect poised to step into a key role this spring.

Spring practice starts next week for the reigning national champs ahead of a season carrying as high as any expectations in school history.

We're analyzing where the Tigers stand going into spring by position - examining the Tigers offensive line today:

Offensive line

Roster (depth chart returners, freshmen)

Tremayne Anchrum - senior (6-2 310)

Sean Pollard - senior (6-5 315)

Gage Cervenka - senior* (6-3 325)

John Simpson - senior (6-4 330)

Chandler Reeves - junior* (6-6 295)

Cade Stewart - junior* (6-3 310)

Matt Bockhorst - sophomore* (6-4 310)

Jackson Carman - sophomore (6-5 345)

Blake Vinson - sophomore* (6-4 285)

Jordan McFadden - redshirt freshman (6-3 300)

Kaleb Boateng - freshman^ (6-4 293)

Hunter Rayburn - freshman^ (6-4 320)

William Putnam - freshman^ (6-4 280)

Mason Trotter% - freshman (6-3 270)

* Redshirted

^ Early enrollees

% Projected grayshirt

Three questions

Who's next at center: Clemson’s offensive line has been blessed with consistency at center the last several seasons. Dalton Freeman’s technical game gave way to Jay Guillermo’s heart and grit, which gave way to the thinking man’s Justin Falcinelli.

Falcinelli was a two-year starter at center and two-time All-ACC Academic selection who exemplified the term “student-athlete,” earning his MBA in a program an hour away from campus while starting for the undefeated national champions in 2018.

Who will take his place?

Sean Pollard played a few snaps at center during the postseason, while Cade Stewart and Matt Bockhorst are also options. However, the guy that gets the first look should be Gage Cervenka.

Cervenka played 549 snaps over 15 games with eight combined starts at center and right guard in 2018. He saw significant action in reserve (at guard) in a comeback win vs. Syracuse, appearing in 57 snaps and helping the offense engineer a 13-play, 94-yard game-winning drive.

He made his first career start at center at Florida State, earning team offensive player of the game honors after playing 56 snaps in helping Clemson hand the Seminoles their worst home loss in program history.

The former defensive tackle (and decorated high school wrestler) is one of the strongest members of the team, tying the program position record for bench press reps at 225 pounds (43). Last season was his breakout season, and 2019 will be Cervenka’s time to shine. - Nikki Hood

Which Tiger is ready to take over left tackle?: Mitch Hyatt leaves Clemson holding school records for career snaps from scrimmage and career starts. It’s never easy to replace a guy that was so good he was almost an afterthought – you penciled his name in the starting lineup at left tackle and didn’t think anything else about it.

Hyatt is headed to the NFL and it’s up to the Clemson coaching staff to find the guy that will protect the blindside of quarterback Trevor Lawrence. The guy that gets the first shot is Jackson Carman.

The former 5-star played 209 snaps over 13 games but turned in perhaps his best work in the cold at Boston College. Hyatt left with an injury and Carman tallied 34 snaps as the Tigers clinched the ACC Atlantic Division title. Carman played 22 snaps during the postseason and is now looking to take his game to the next level.

“I am looking forward to the spring. I just want to keep on training and getting better so I am ready when my time is called,” Carman said. “From a football aspect, definitely just technique and being consistent with that technique. This is a really technical game. You have to think about hand placement and footwork and pad level, everything that goes into being a good offensive lineman and that you need it to be second nature. Off the field, just buying into the structure of the program and making sure I am doing all of my schoolwork on time and getting to the workouts on time.

“It’s just such a tight-packed itinerary that we have every day and it was overwhelming that first semester. We literally have 5:30 AM workouts and then you have to go to class and go to tutoring and then go back to class and then eat lunch and then back over for meetings, and then you might have things all afternoon and tutoring that night. Now I am handling it all a lot better and it has been good. It's actually nice knowing that you can set a goal and complete that goal and do it to the best of your ability.” - David Hood

How does the Tigers O-line stack up nationally?: Clemson returns three starters and four who played 500-plus snaps (Tremayne Anchrum - 805; John Simpson - 858; Cervenka - 549; Pollard - 508) - and three more who averaged double-digit snaps a game (Cade Stewart - 265; Carman - 209; Matt Bockhorst - 178). Where did that group place among national rankings statistically last year?

Well, an elite quarterback can make you look good - and that’s part of the story for the Clemson offensive line in recent years.

Clemson improved from 86th in adjusted sack rate and 74th in sacks allowed in 2017 to 15th in sack rate and 12th in sacks allowed. Lawrence was only sacked 2.7 percent of his dropbacks to pass, compared to a 6.4 percent sack rate that Bryant took the season before (and 6.9 percent through September last season).

In Deshaun Watson’s final two seasons of eligibility, Clemson also finished in the top-10 in adjusted sack rate and top-25 in sacks allowed per game, following a topsy-turvy season at QB in 2014 (26th in adjusted sack rate/68th in sacks allowed).

Despite the increased explosiveness in the run game last season, there is room for improvement in the ground game.

Clemson finished 86th in power success rate, which measures first downs gained on runs of two or fewer yards on third and fourth down. Per CFBStats, Clemson converted first downs on 62 percent of runs in 3rd-and-short situations (1-3 yards; 41st-most attempts; 44th-most conversions).

On the plus side, the Tigers did excel in not being stuffed at the line (10th in stuff rate/third in TFLs allowed) overall - and an improved efficiency in short yardage could take this group to another level. - Brandon Rink

Spring Preview: Quarterbacks

Spring Preview: Running Back

Spring Preview: WR/TE

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Tags: Tremayne Anchrum, Sean Pollard, Gage Cervenka, John Simpson, Chandler Reeves, Cade Stewart, Matt Bockhorst, Jackson Carman, Blake Vinson, Jordan McFadden, Kaleb Boateng, Hunter Rayburn, Will Putnam, Mason Trotter, Dalton Freeman, Jay Guillermo, Justin Falcinelli, Mitch Hyatt, Trevor Lawrence, Deshaun Watson
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