This is an area where Dabo Swinney often takes some heat. Clemson likes to generally carry 15 offensive linemen on the roster, and there are many out there who thinks that number should be a little higher.
Most years, 15 would certainly be enough, but then you have a season like the 2021 season, where injuries ravaged the offensive line, and it leads one to wonder whether Swinney might revisit that number and think about increasing it a little.
As bad as offensive line play was at times this season, the future looks to be bright. The room is littered with young talent. Arguably the most talented the Tigers have had under Swinney.
Matt Backhorst has already announced he will not return next season, as has Tayquon Johnson. Sophomore Paul Tchio, who happens to be very talented, hit the transfer portal midseason after being passed on the depth chart and being called out publicly by Swinney.
Despite those departures, the Tigers should be in really good shape up front, and they should also have plenty of depth. Unless, of course, the room is overrun with injuries again.
2022 Offensive Line
Jordan McFadden: Some of the best news Clemson has gotten in recent weeks is the fact that McFadden will be back next season. His return means the Tigers won’t have to replace their LT and allows the staff to be patient when it comes to the development of former 5-star Tristan Leigh.
Will Putnam: The rising senior had the best season of his career in 2021. There were some ups and downs to start the season, but that was the case with the entire group. However, over the second half of the season, Putnam really started to settle in and down the stretch, after returning from an injury, looked like the guy fans envisioned when he signed.
Hunter Rayburn: After not being able to win the starting job at center before the season began, Rayburn really started to come on over the second half of the season. The more he played, the better he performed. He saw plenty of time at center and guard and should be a big part of the rotation going forward.
Mason Trotter: A cast on his snapping him kept him from seeing the field to begin the season, forcing Bockhorst to move over to center. Trotter would end up seeing a lot of time on the field, not only at center but also at guard. Trotter is much more suited to play center, though, as his time at guard wasn’t viewed as a rousing success.
Walker Parks: Quietly had a very solid season in his first year as the starter at RT. It wasn’t perfect by any stretch, as Parks was more or less still learning while on the job, but as he heads into his third season in 2022, he should be a key piece for the Tigers.
Mitchell Mayes: A Top-150 player coming out of high school, the coaches are still very high on Mayes’ potential, despite it taking a little longer than most fans would have liked. Mayes is wrapping up his second season and served as the backup to Parks this season. With McFadden coming back, Mayes should provide quality depth next season.
Bryn Tucker: A Top-300 player coming out of high school, Tucker is still trying to find his way. The redshirt freshman saw a lot of playing time against UConn, but outside of that didn’t log many snaps in 2021.
Trent Howard: Howard, another redshirt freshman, should help provide some depth at center in 2022, most likely as the third guy on the depth chart.
Marcus Tate: The true freshman came in and was immediately the talk of the spring. The coaches raved about him throughout fall camp, and he started at LG in the opener against Georgia. It did not go well. However, by the end of the season, Tate was showing why he was drawing such rave reviews from the coaching staff. After some early growing pains, Tate solidified himself as a starter at LG after the injury to Bockhorst. He’s also capable of moving outside and playing tackle if need be.
Tristan Leigh: After not enrolling early and having played a spring high school season, Leigh needed a redshirt in 2021. With McFadden coming back there will now be no rush to insert him into a starting role next season, but having said that, he will be a big part of the rotation going forward and is absolutely a future starter.
Dietrick Pennington: A true freshman that was severely underrated by the recruiting services coming out of high school last season. An injury kept him off the field this season, but you should expect to see a lot of Pennington in 2022, even if it’s in a reserve role. He can play inside or outside, but is more suited to play guard.
Ryan Linthicum: The number one center in the country in the 2021 class, Linthicum is just another example of how rare it is for offensive linemen to come in and start right away. There was playing time to be had at center for Clemson this season, but Linthicum needed a season to develop more physically and to acclimate to the collegiate level. There is no guarantee he will be ready to start next season, but a the very least he should be ready to contribute.
John Williams: Finishing up his redshirt freshman season. So far, Williams has yet to make an impact.
Colin Sadler: An incoming freshman who already looks the part of a bigtime college football offensive linemen. A blue-chip prospect who could easily crack the two deep in 2022.
Blake Miller: Another incoming freshman. Like Sadler, Miller could push for playing time in 2022.
Outlook: Right now the Tigers look to be right on that number of 15. However, there have been multiple reports stating the staff is looking to bring in a veteran center which would put them at 16, barring anymore attrition.
Without question, Clemson’s offensive line underperformed in 2021. Injuries, youth, and not having a center really hurt. However, it was the injuries that really kept the Tigers from ever really having any continuity up front, as evidenced by the fact that the team had six different starting lineups up front over the first nine games.
As noted above, there is a lot to like about what Clemson has at offensive line going forward. With reports of Robbie Caldwell getting set to retire after the season and Thomas Austin taking over for the longtime assistant, there is a lot of optimism surrounding the position going forward.
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