The second question posed at the outset of Clemson’s fall camp last month focused on freshman tackle Mitch Hyatt and whether he’d be ready to take the reins at left tackle.
The answer is yes.
At least that’s what Clemson’s coaches are counting on.
“We feel good about Mitch at left tackle,” co-offensive coordinator Tony Elliott said.
Hyatt was listed as the starter on the Clemson’s first-game depth chart, which was released on Monday.
Few offensive linemen enter the college ranks ready to be immediate contributors, but Hyatt could prove the exception.
“Obviously he came here with hopes and expectations of being the starter, but he didn’t expect it to happen that fast,” Elliott said. “He thought it was going to be a camp situation where he was going to have to beat out Isaiah Battle.”
Battle, who logged more snaps than any other Clemson player last season, was the incumbent at the position and one of just two starters returning off last season’s offensive line. But he opted to leave school early and enter the NFL Supplemental Draft, leaving Hyatt as the heir apparent.
Hyatt has capitalized on the opportunity. A 6-foot-5, 295-pounder from Suwanee, Ga., Hyatt was rated the nation’s No. 2 offensive tackle in the 2015 recruiting class by ESPN. He enrolled in January and participated in spring drills, which also enhanced his prospects.
Now he’s poised to become the first freshman to start multiple games at Clemson since Barry Richardson in 2004.
“I know it’s something that hasn’t been done in a while, but we haven’t had a player like Mitch in a while,” said fellow offensive lineman Eric Mac Lain. “Yeah, it’s going to be a trial by fire, but he’s a five-star athlete for a reason.”
The fact that Hyatt has gone toe-to-toe against preseason All-ACC defensive end Shaq Lawson in practice has served to bolster his confidence, as well as Elliott’s.
“He’s had the best defensive end in the country to block day-in and day-out, and Shaq hasn’t taken any days off on him,” Elliott said. “You get thrown into the fire and you’re blocking Shaq Lawson, and we all know how good Shaq is.
“You would think that a guy who took his lumps, took his lumps mentally, may not be able to recover as quickly. But I’ll tell you what, he’s never backed down. He gets better every day and he’s starting to use his technique a little bit better.”
In addition to Hyatt, there are at least five other freshmen listed on Clemson’s two-deep depth chart on offense.
Hyatt will be backed up by redshirt freshman Taylor Hearn, while redshirt freshman Justin Falcinelli is listed as a backup at left guard and freshman Jake Fruhmorgen is listed at right tackle behind Joe Gore.
Other freshmen or redshirt freshmen set to play prominent roles include Ray Ray McCloud behind Artavis Scott at slot receiver, and redshirt freshman Trevion Thompson behind Mike Williams at another receiver position.
Also, when the Tigers opt for a two tight end set, or incorporate an H-back, look for freshman Garrett Williams to enter the game.
Six freshmen or redshirt freshmen also are on the defense’s two-deep, including Christian Wilkins, who’s listed as a co-starter at defensive tackle along with Scott Pagano.
Rookies can be found at both linebacker spots, with redshirt freshman Kendall Joseph No. 2 behind B.J. Goodson at middle linebacker and freshman Jalen Williams backing up Ben Boulware at weakside linebacker.
At free safety, redshirt freshman Jefferie Gibson is listed behind starter T.J. Green; redshirt freshman Richard Yeargin will back up Lawson at the strongside defensive end spot while freshman Austin Bryant is listed as a co-second teamer behind Kevin Dodd at the other defensive end spot.
Starting placekicker Greg Huegel and his backup, Alex Spence, are both redshirt freshmen.
TIGERS VS. TERRIERS
Who: Clemson (0-0) vs. Wofford (0-0)
When: Saturday, 12:30 p.m.
Where: Memorial Stadium, Clemson
TV: ACC Network