Column: The Weak Link for 2020
Former Clemson offensive lineman and current ACC Network analyst, Eric Mac Lain, came on my show recently to discuss the new-look offensive line for the Clemson Tigers. In this column, we take a look at his thoughts on who will start in 2020 and what to expect.
Four out of the five offensive linemen that will take the field for the Clemson Tigers in 2020 will be new to the starting position. The only returning player is Jackson Carman. The 6 foot 5 inch, 345 pound left tackle will be a junior next season and expected to take on a leadership role to the new men joining him in the trenches.
"I think obviously Jackson Carman is going to be your anchor at left tackle," said Mac Lain. "A guy that's played a lot of football and has played very well and I think has been a nice surprise and an upgrade at left tackle. I think he is a nasty guy. He is a good road grader and a great pass protector as well."
The national media and opposing teams have already started looking for weak links on the Tigers roster going into the 2020 season. Considering the fact that offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell will have to find replacements for four positions next year, his position group is being talked about as the weak link going into next season.
"When you look at it, there's so much leadership. There are so much depth and guys that have been playing together for quite a long time and it's going to be something that they're going to have to figure out," said Mac Lain.
Caldwell isn't replacing your average college football offensive linemen. He has to replace four starters that earned spots on 2019's All ACC team at all five positions. Right tackle Tremayne Anchrum and left guard John Simpson earned first-team honors, while center Sean Pollard and right guard Gage Cervenka earned second-team honors. Carman rounded out the group by earning third-team honors. Clemson loses a combined 127 starts among the four players.
The Tigers had a strong one-two punch at the left guard position in 2019 with Carman and backup Jordan McFadden. Based on last season's results from Carman, it is more than reasonable to suggest that the left tackle position will be the strong point and a great place for coach Caldwell to start building off of.
There is really no confusion about the left guard position either. Matt Bockhorst has long been talked about as the next big monster at left guard.
"Move over to the left guard obviously, Matt Bockhorst is gonna step up big," said Mac Lain. "A guy that has played a ton this year (2019) and previously in his career. He's just nasty. He doesn't care to be friends with you. He's a guy that's going to hit you over and over again. Pile you into the ground and the laugh at you."
Clemson can't be blamed for inexperience on the left side of the starting line. The Tigers also have an experienced player stepping into the center position.
"Cade Stewart is another guy who's had a ton of reps and snaps," said Mac Lain. "He'll be a redshirt senior next year to finally get his chance to start. I know how much that means to be a fifth-year guy to finally pave the way and be a starter."
The right side of the line is where questions start to come up. However, the Tigers may already have an answer at right tackle in Jordan McFadden. Behind Carman, McFadden has the most experience playing tackle going into next season, Caldwell could move him over to right tackle to help solidify both edges of the line.
If McFadden doesn't move over, the Tigers will likely rely on Blake Vinson who disappeared in 2019 after only 26 snaps because of a patella injury. He had surgery shortly after the Syracuse game. However, he is expected to be ready to go in the spring. At 6'4'' and 300 lbs, he is definitely someone who has the size to be successful next year.
According to 247, Clemson recently signed the fifth-best offensive tackle in the country in Lexington, Kentucky native Walker Parks. He is 6'5'' and I am already hearing that he is close to 300 lbs. At that size, Parks could make a strong push for the starting right tackle position, however, he will have a limited time to get in and prove himself before the season as he joins the team in June.
Only only remaining offensive line position that we haven't talked about is also probably the one with the most question marks.
"Right guard is maybe where there are some question marks," said Mac Lain. "You might see some freshmen or redshirt freshmen step in. Will Putnam was a guy from Florida. A really good athlete, a guy who I think could have played a little bit this year."
Putnam was not redshirted in 2019 and finished with 192 total snaps. He is the most likely to fit into that right guard role on day one. However, as spring brings blooming flowers, practice will bring in new freshmen who are also ready to show they belong on an elite college football offensive line.
It's always a tough task to replace four All ACC linemen. However, the Tiger staff has done a great job in preparing this year's line by playing them early and often in 2019. If practice goes as expected, Clemson should not have a lack of experience at any position on the line.
If experienced players can't fill the role then this staff has also done something they have never done before, by signing six offensive linemen for 2020 including four players who are in the top 300 for 247. With so many new faces, there will be many exciting position battles on the offensive line this spring. There is no doubt that whoever earns a starting spot will be among one of the best in the nation at that position.
For those in the national media and those on opposing teams looking for the Clemson offensive line to be a weakness in 2020, beware.
Check out more clips from my interview with Eric Mac Clain on The Morgan Thomas Show on Facebook or YouTube.