As the hits to Clemson’s offensive line continue to mount, the depth at that position is becoming dire.
Clemson coach Dabo Swinney said Tuesday that backup lineman Paul Tchio has decided to enter the transfer portal, making for the latest defection among a position group that’s been decimated by attrition up and down the depth chart. Swinney then uttered the harsh reality facing the unit.
“We’ve got what we’ve got,” he said. “Can’t ship anybody in here right now.”
Tchio started at guard against North Carolina State on Sept. 25 but had logged just seven snaps since after not playing against Louisville last week. With Tchio gone, that’s now five offensive linemen that were either significant contributors or in line to be this season that have been lost to season-ending injuries or a transfer.
It started in the preseason when Tayquon Johnson (pectoral injury) and John Williams (knee) had season-ending surgeries. Freshman Dietrick Pennington, whom Swinney pegged as a potential “difference maker” for the Tigers up front, then tore his ACL in September. Fifth-year senior Matt Bockhorst did the same against Pitt last month.
That in part has forced Clemson to start six different combinations along the line through its first nine games, and it appears Will Putnam will miss a second straight game Saturday when UConn visits Memorial Stadium because of an ankle injury. Putnam, who also didn’t play against Boston College on Oct. 2 because of an unrelated foot injury, is “a lot better and improving,” Swinney said, but coaches would like to hold him out if possible to give him more time to heal up.
But there aren’t a ton of available bodies left up front.
Mason Trotter, who had started the previous three games at center, moved over to fill in at right guard against Louisville in Putnam’s absence. That put Hunter Rayburn back in the starting lineup along with Jordan McFadden, Walker Parks and freshman Marcus Tate, who was reinserted as the starting left guard two games ago following Bockhorst’s injury.
The Tigers’ options are limited to the point that true freshmen Tristan Leigh and Ryan Linthicum, whom Clemson planned on redshirting this season, have been elevated from the scout team. Leigh and Linthicum made up the second-team offensive line during Monday’s practice along with redshirt freshmen Bryn Tucker and Trent Howard and sophomore Mitchell Mayes, Swinney said. Those five have combined to play just 102 offensive snaps this season.
“We’ve moved those guys up, and we’ll just keep rolling with what we’ve got,” Swinney said. “We’ve developed a lot of versatility in that offensive line. That’s for sure. We’ve got a lot of guys that can play multiple positions.”
Leigh, a former five-star signee, and Linthicum have only played in one game apiece so far, so with the NCAA’s four-game redshirt rule, they would still be able to play in three more games this season and maintain a year of eligibility. With Clemson having at least four games left (three regular-season games and a bowl game as well as an outside shot at the ACC title game), Swinney hinted at them only being used in an emergency situation.
At this point, though, Swinney isn’t ruling anything out the rest of the way.
“I’ve never had a year like this,” Swinney said.
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