CLEMSON Clemson’s senior leader on the offensive line, center Jay Guillermo, takes on the strength of the Clemson defense each practice session: the interior D-line.
In the midweek scrimmage, a Tiger O-line in transition met that challenge head-on and paved the way for success in the ground game.
“We got down to the goal line and scored a few times. We kinda imposed our will against a monstrous defensive line,” Guillermo said, “especially in the interior. Not taking anything away from our defensive ends, but me dealing with the interior defensive linemen, they’ve improved since the season (ended). These guys really worked hard during the offseason.”
“The way we executed and the way we blocked, we had big plays in the running game…I was really impressed with our offensive line.”
The front-five emerging into the final week of spring practice is comprised of three underclassmen (sophomore tackles Mitch Hyatt and Jake Fruhmorgen; sophomore left guard Taylor Hearn), a junior (right guard Tyrone Crowder) and the senior Guillermo.
Clemson co-OC Tony Elliott says the Tigers’ lack of experience at tackles means a Hearn or junior right guard candidate in Maverick Morris could play outside as well.
“Hearn and Crowder are the guys that have really taken a step,” Elliott said. “Maverick is not far behind. He’s pushing. We’re really challenging him because we need all those guys. Look at the situation at tackle and one of those guys may need to bump out and play tackle for us too.
“Being able to have those guys interior-wise that you’re comfortable with in case you have something (happen) on the perimeter – you can move a guy outside and not miss much.”
Minor injuries have made the Tigers mix-and-match on the OL this spring. With redshirt freshman Zach Giella in a limited-contact yellow jersey Monday, mid-year enrollee Sean Pollard was second-team right tackle and preferred walk-on and freshman Seth Penner was second-team left guard. Elliott sees 7-8 Tiger linemen ready to roll for game-action now, and he hopes to have a full second-team primed to play by this fall.
“Spring is tough because you get bumps and bruises and guys aren’t in there,” Elliott said. “Really feel good with the first five and there’s competition with probably seven that can go right now. Got eight that we feel right on the cusp and feel confident that by the time (we kick off) nine and hopefully 10.”
However many are ready, there’s a confidence surrounding a unit that ranked in the top-10 in adjusted sack rate and adjusted line yards last season.
“It’s all through hard work and getting in there, working, doing everything we can to be a better unit,” Guillermo said. “Really listening to coach (Robbie) Caldwell and taking in what he’s doing. That’s one thing, we watch throughout the season we'll watch defensive lines against other offensive lines – and not saying that we’re perfect, but our footwork, hand placement – I can just see a difference between us and different teams.
“The little things are what’s standing out for us and making us a better unit.”