Perks of Being Clemson OL Coach Thomas Austin’s ‘Dog of the Day’

Being the best at anything, even for a day, comes with certain rewards, perks and new offensive line coach, Thomas Austin, is the man handing those out this spring.

Let’s say, one of the perks, is being in charge of what music gets blasted in the offensive line room in the practice facility. Last Friday’s ‘Dog,’ Will Putnam chose of all things, reggae. I guess to each his own, but reggae?

“If you’re out here, you grade out the best, you’re moving guys off the ball, you’re getting knockdowns, stuff like that you get ‘dog’ today,” Putnam explained. “And the dog of the day gets to have these privileges.”

This designation is just one of the new wrinkles started under Austin. As a former Tiger (2005-08,) he’s still young enough himself to appreciate and actually enjoy a musical change of pace, even reggae.

Austin has big shoes to fill, replacing Robbie Caldwell and based on his player’s reactions to being ‘Big Dogs,’ he’s doing it quite well. He’s no stranger to these players, as he was promoted from his previous position as an offensive analyst after Caldwell retired.

From Austin’s perspective, Putnam was more than deserving of dog-of-the-day honor. He’s doing the ‘Big Dog’s’ work by learning a new, crucial position.

The Florida native has switched over from right guard to center, reportedly making a relatively smooth transition and is now taking first-team reps. Austin said Putnam only had one bad snap during Wednesday’s practice, which was too low, in 31 snaps, and that clinched the deal.

“One thing I’ll say about Will is, he can self-correct himself,” Austin said after the practice. “I think when guys make that transition, they don’t always know when they have a bad snap, and if they do, where it goes, but he knows, hey, that was low or that was high. So, he’s doing a really good job.”

Putnam, like many Clemson’s offensive linemen last year, didn’t play a whole season because of a plethora of injuries. He tried to struggle through a pretty painful toe injury, but ultimately ended up missing three games, while starting the other 10.

In the final two games of 2021, despite injury, he didn’t allow a single sack. Austin should have a much healthier group in 2022 that looks to have a better showing than last year.

“We need more functional depth than we had last year,” Austin said. “And so that’s where that next group of guys has to really step up.”

Another of those guys, a future ‘Dog of the Day,’ for sure is tackle Tristan Leigh. A former five-star recruit who only played 20 snaps in two games while redshirting last season. Head coach Dabo Swinney called Leigh a “big shot in the arm” for the team, and Austin referred to him as the most improved offensive lineman.

Leigh, despite being a Top-25 offensive lineman in the country in the 2021 recruiting class, he had areas in which he needed to improve upon coming out of high school and was aware of them. His commitment to getting better left an impression on his new coach.

“Sometimes, you get a guy who’s really highly recruited like Tristan and you redshirt him,” Austin said. “You know that some of those guys don’t respond well to that.”

Austin brings a slightly different style and perspective to the group than Caldwell but never fear, Caldwell’s belief in cross-training is here to stay. Getting guys reps at different positions not only helps players potentially prepare for the next level, but it also helps the team to develop the depth the Tigers will need heading into the fall.

“You want to manage helping a guy settle in and learn,” he said.

However, Austin knows if you cross-train them too much, they can never really settle into the best, most natural position. As he says, “it can definitely be a tightrope to walk.”

For now, in the midst of spring drills, it’s all about being the big man, the ‘Top Dog,’ even for a day. I suspect, if all goes well and this group develops as planned, any music chosen by any ‘Dog,’ will be sweet music to this team. Even reggae.

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