Dabo Swinney put the word out before the spring that Clemson would be actively looking to add offensive line reinforcements from outside the program before next season.
“I’m in a whole different state of mind right now than I was going into spring ball,” Swinney told The Clemson Insider this week.
Specifically, Swinney has been monitoring the transfer portal for interior linemen following Hunter Rayburn’s abrupt medical disqualification and Mason Trotter’s unavailability for at least part of next season. With Matt Bockhorst having exhausted his eligibility last season, that left Clemson without its top three centers from a season ago heading into the spring.
So far, Swinney said Clemson has only extended scholarship offers to two portal linemen, both of whom ended up elsewhere. NCAA rules prevent coaches from publicly discussing specific recruits that haven’t signed with their programs, but the Tigers were heavily involved with former Virginia standout Olusegun Oluwatimi before the All-American center transferred to Michigan in late December. Former all-Sun Belt guard O’Cyrus Torrence, a three-year starter for Louisiana, announced an offer from Clemson in January before choosing Florida.
But Swinney said he feels much more comfortable about the center position after what he saw from rising senior Will Putnam and the rest of the players at that position this spring. The attrition there before the spring forced Clemson to move Putnam over from right guard, where he’s been the starter the last two seasons.
“He’s so knowledgeable, first of all,” Swinney said of Putnam. “He’s got complete ownership of the offense. He can make all the calls, and he’s got great command of the protections. He’s just played a lot of football, but the biggest thing we saw was the ability to make the snaps consistently. It was rare that we had a bad snap. It was about one a day, and you’re talking about a guy that’s never snapped. It’s not like he snapped in high school. He’s never snapped.
“He’s an unbelievably committed guy, and you just know whatever Will Putnam does, he’s going to go above and beyond. And so what we saw out of him, what we saw out of (redshirt freshman Ryan) Linthicum, what we saw out of Trent (Howard), those three guys have the ability to do it.”
That doesn’t mean adding a lineman from the portal is no longer a possibility for the Tigers, who only have 14 offensive linemen on scholarship — one fewer than Swinney would like for the ideal depth at the position. And while Clemson would prefer to get a center if it does end up bringing in someone from the outside, Swinney said the Tigers are open to potentially taking a lineman that can play anywhere on the interior.
But it’s not just the center position that has Swinney feeling better about the unit if the right portal fit doesn’t come along. Should the Tigers have to keep Putnam there, Swinney said he’s seen the kinds of strides he needed to see from some of his younger, less experienced interior linemen to feel good about moving forward with the current personnel.
“The biggest comfort we have is what we saw out of those five sophomores and five freshmen,” Swinney said. “Marcus Tate and the experience he got (last season), and then that group of redshirt sophomores all made a move. This time last year, I really didn’t see that going into their redshirt freshman year. But now Mitchell Mayes, Trent Howard, Bryn Tucker and big John Williams, those guys all made a move. And then the five freshmen, we hit on all of those guys. Tristan Leigh, Linthicum, Dietrick Pennington, Blake Miller and Collin Sadler, all of those guys can play. Coming out of spring, I can say that now.”
Swinney also has certain criteria that any potential targets that enter the portal in the future must meet to get serious consideration for a scholarship offer.
“We’re looking for a guy that’s a senior that’s exactly like what we offered, that’s the right fit, that’s got starter experience and those types of things that fit our program and fit our locker room. Then we’d consider that,” Swinney said. “But that’s not out there right now for us outside of the two we offered and didn’t get. You never know what’s going to happen between now and May, but, again, we’re not just going to take a kid to take a kid.
“We know specifically what we’re looking for, and if that’s not available, then we’re going to roll with what we’ve got.”
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