Clemson offensive line coming on strong
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) It's a problem Robbie Caldwell hasn't dealt with much during his five years at Clemson – people expecting big things from the offensive line.
That's what offensive line coach Caldwell is facing this season with the Tigers seemingly stout and strong up front as the national runner-ups chase another Atlantic Coast Conference title and spot in the College Football Playoffs.
''We always take offense to whatever, we're over there in the background,'' Caldwell said. ''We have our own goals whether people believe in us or not.''
There's plenty to believe in this season.
Starters Jay Guillermo, Mitch Hyatt and Tyrone Crowder are back to anchor the line after all were question marks last season, most notably five-star prospect Hyatt as freshman protecting the blindside of franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson.
But Hyatt started all 15 games, logging the most snaps ever for a Clemson freshman on the offensive line, while Watson was barely touched last season.
Guillermo, at center, is the vocal leader and soul of the line who had walked away from the team after 2014 while dealing with depression. He came back last fall a different man, one ready to work to turn the Tigers into winners.
Expect Guillermo to get in Watson's face when things are tough, not to yell or pump him up, but to ask, ''Tell me you love me'' until the Heisman Trophy finalist smiles.
Crowder was a 6-foot-2, 330 pound powder keg at right guard, clogging up the middle and holding back rushing defenders. Crowder graded out at 86 percent in a 24-22 victory over Notre Dame last October, a win that propelled Clemson to a 14-0 start and a No. 1 ranking.
Joining that core on the line this fall are sophomores Jake Fruhmorgen at right tackle and Taylor Hearn at left guard. The two saw plenty of snaps last year as Clemson rolled in fresh offensive linemen to keep its offense chugging along.
The Tigers, led by Watson, are expected to light up scoreboards and stat books again this season.
Watson, a junior, passed for 4,104 yards and 35 touchdowns and ran for 1,105 yards and 12 touchdowns. The Tigers also had the a single-season rushing yardage record breaker in the backfield as Wayne Gallman, also returning, gained 1,527 yards in 2015.
Guillermo said the linemen take a lot of pride in those marks and hope to put up even bigger numbers this season.
''We know what kind of team we've got and we want to work to do our part,'' Guillermo said.
Guillermo doesn't have to think too far back to remember how little regard fans held for the Tigers offensive line. NFL evaluators were no exception. Clemson had 42 players drafted in Dabo Swinney's seven full seasons as coach. Just two were offensive linemen (tackle Chris Hairston in 2011 and guard Brandon Thomas in 2014).
Caldwell believes that's about to change.
Hyatt is a no-nonsense worker, who at 6-5, 295 pounds is considered a first-round talent in the 2018 draft. Fruhmorgen and Crowder are also expected to go high when eligible for the next level.
Caldwell's breaking in two true freshmen into the mix in tackles Tremayne Anchrum and Sean Pollard, both who enrolled in January and who earned back up spots on Clemson's two-deep depth chart coming out of spring.
The Tigers were picked ahead of LSU, Alabama and Michigan – all schools known for huge, talented offensive linemen – as the nation's best unit by Foxsports.com.
Right now, the focus is on this season and Clemson's offensive line living up to its billing.
''There's a lot of pride in that room,'' said Caldwell, the one-time Vanderbilt coach. ''They want to make a little history of their own.''
So how will Caldwell deal with the group's new-found respect and tone down the good feelings?
''We'll think of something,'' he said, smiling.