Clemson had another solid season last year on its way to the College Football Playoff where it lost to Ohio State in the semifinals. Many of the star players from that team moved onto the NFL. Who could replace the production lost from 2020? Clemson Sports is breaking down key plays and who could make them. Next up: How the Tigers can replace a star at left tackle.
CLEMSON — The left tackle position will always be a pillar of the offense. To protect a quarterback’s blind side, teams must make sure that this position is locked down yearly.
For the last two seasons, Jackson Carman has held it down at left tackle with 27 starts and high-caliber play. A former top-20 recruit out of Fairfield, Ohio, who picked the Tigers over in-state juggernaut Ohio State in the class of 2018, is now off to the NFL. In three years on campus, Carman delivered by twice being an All-ACC selection.
The offensive lineman is making a return home as the Cincinnati Bengals selected Carman with pick No. 46 overall in the second round of the 2021 NFL Draft. Clemson will enter the season with three returning starters along the offensive line, but replacing Carman at left tackle will be a challenge.
During spring practice, offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell made a point of emphasis on cross-training players at different positions along the line. The Tigers are searching for quality depth that wasn’t available last season. In practice, the unit tried out multiple different scenarios in hopes of building a deep offensive line that is a legit two-deep with options at each of the five positions.
“We’re not there yet,” said Dabo Swinney when talking about his offensive line this spring. “But I really feel like by the time we get through camp in August, we’ll be back to where we used to be the previous couple years. That’s having 9, 10, 11 guys that can not just be on a depth chart but literally go play winning football for us. That was a problem for us last year.”
The offense enters the summer with plenty of options to step in at the left tackle spot. However, Clemson could very well be quite young at the position. Expect an intense battle to occur in fall camp as the Tigers look to find their next pillar along the offensive line.
Clemson Sports is going to sort through where the left tackle position is currently for the Tigers and evaluate how things sit heading into the summer.
Clemson left tackle options
Jordan McFadden: A former three-star recruit out of Spartanburg, S.C., McFadden started all 12 games for the Tigers last season at right tackle while logging nearly 800 snaps. The redshirt junior earned All-ACC honors from PFF and enters the year as one of Clemson’s best offensive line players along with left guard Matt Bockhorst. Despite standing at just 6-foot-2, McFadden has enough length to succeed at tackle. The veteran was cross-trained at left tackle this spring.
Walker Parks: The top-50 recruit out of Kentucky in the class of 2020, Parks could easily step in for the previously highly-touted Carman. As a true freshman, the 295-pound rookie played in 11 games on his way to Freshman All-America honors. The sophomore will have a great shot at locking down a starting spot this summer.
Marcus Tate: An early enrollee, Tate was one of the biggest surprises during spring practice. The top-150 recruit from Florida looked outstanding in the spring game and coaches gushed about his potential throughout the 15 practices. With some terrific positional athleticism, Tate seems more than ready to hold up in the ACC as a true freshman.
Tristan Leigh: Another true freshman, Leigh won’t arrive on campus until this summer but the talent cannot be ignored. The top-15 recruit is the program’s highest-ranked player on the offensive line since Carman joined in 2018. The Virginia native should get a look in fall camp.
Mitchell Mayes: A high-profile recruit out of North Carolina in the class of 2020, Mayes played in four games last season. Entering the year as a redshirt freshman, the former high school All-American has positional versatility — the blue-chipper could play guard or tackle in college. Expect Mayes to be a viable depth option this season.
The pick: Walker Parks is the starter but freshmen push for playing time
There is no denying that Parks hit some clear checkpoints in his rookie campaign. The blue-chip recruit looked comfortable on the field and has the talent to be a really good player along the offensive line. After getting his feet wet, Parks is ready for a full-time role.
“We didn’t really give our teammates a fair opportunity from our performance because we weren’t that dominant,” Parks said this spring. “That’s definitely something that we’ve been talking about working on this year. It pisses me off and it pissed the other guys off too. We’re going to develop and we’re going to be a lot better. The mindset has definitely changed.”
McFadden can play left tackle, but the correct move will be to keep him at right tackle where the veteran succeeded last season. The redshirt junior should be one of the best right tackles in the ACC this fall. So who will backup Parks?
Tate looked like the real deal in the spring and could be very hard to keep off the field. The coaching staff is likely going to get the young player some reserve reps early and often. Meanwhile, Leigh will arrive this summer with high expectations. If the youngster lives up to the recruiting rankings, the Virginia native will also carve out a role somewhere as a true freshman. Mayes is also a player that could be ready to contribute.
Clemson has plenty of young players that can be capable options at left tackle.