Spring position battles to watch
Outside of the running back position, where Clemson must find a replacement for Travis Etienne, who will start at center is the Tigers’ next biggest question.
Last year’s starter, Cade Stewart, decided to move on from college football and elected not to use the extra year of eligibility the NCAA granted for student-athletes this past fall due to the pandemic. So, for the third straight year, Clemson will be looking for a new center.
Logically, it might seem redshirt sophomore Mason Trotter will move up and assume that spot or reserve center Hunter Rayburn. However, freshman Ryan Linthicum might have something to say about that this spring.
Linthicum, the top-ranked center in the country coming out of high school, enrolled at Clemson in January, and some believe he might put himself in position to earn the starting job by the time the 2021 season rolls around.
Clemson has not had a highly touted center since it brought in Dalton Freeman back in 2009. By midseason, Freeman had taken over at the position, one he did not lose the rest of his career.
By the time he graduated in 2012, Freeman became an All-American and was first-team All-ACC as a junior and as a senior. In 2011, Freeman played a big role in guiding the Tigers to their first ACC Championship in 20 years.
With this latest signing class, head coach Dabo Swinney and offensive line coach Robbie Caldwell went out and inked Linthicum from Damascus, Md.
Linthicum is very athletic for his size and it shows on the gridiron with his quick feet, explosiveness off the line, his agility and ability to get to the second level and block linebackers. Not only is Linthicum athletic, but the No. 1 center in the 2021 class per Rivals is strong and powerful, too.
The freshman will have the chance to compete for early playing time in spring practice and fall camp, and the starting spot is up for grabs. Linthicum’s biggest strength is his run blocking, but he is more than capable as a pass protector as well and should only improve in that area.
The Tigers have a complete center in Linthicum whose physicality, athleticism and aggressive mentality should serve him well at Clemson.
Trotter has a good football IQ and can play multiple positions on the offensive line. He was a reserve guard and center in 2021. He has played in 13 games in his career, including nine last season for the Tigers. He played a season high 43 snaps against Notre Dame, while filling in for the injured Matt Bockhorst at guard.
Rayburn was a backup last year at center, as he played in six games and took 57 snaps. He had a career-high 30 snaps at Georgia Tech on Oct. 17.
—Gavin Oliver contributed to this story
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