Where do things stand with Clemson’s offensive line after first scrimmage?

Where do things stand with Clemson’s offensive line after first scrimmage?


Where do things stand with Clemson’s offensive line after first scrimmage?


Clemson coach Dabo Swinney is well aware of the contrasting narratives about his team in the trenches that exist among those on the outside looking in.

“I think all (the offensive linemen) hear and read is how bad they are, and it’s just the opposite on the other side,” Swinney said. “All (the defensive linemen) see and read is how great they are.”

By the end of Clemson’s first camp scrimmage Saturday, though, it was the offensive line that was the object of Swinney’s affection, though the Tigers’ coach wasn’t as surprised by that development as some might have been.

“I think you saw the result of that today,” Swinney said, referencing the motivation the offensive line has drawn from that kind of chatter throughout the offseason. “I definitely think the offensive line won the day in the trenches today, which is good to see. It’s good for both sides.”

Clemson’s defensive front, widely viewed as one of college football’s best entering the new season, features gobs of future NFL talent on a line that returned its entire two-deep from last season. Yet Swinney said the offense turned in plenty of explosive plays on the ground and through the air Saturday thanks in large part to an offensive line that more than held its own.

That despite Clemson still trying to nail down what its starting five is going to be when the Tigers open the season against Georgia Tech on Labor Day night. Assuming no major injuries between now and then, Will Putnam will run out at center while Marcus Tate and veteran Jordan McFadden will make up the left side of the line.

It’s the right side that still has some fluidity to it.

Walker Parks will be a starter, too. The question is will the junior stay at right tackle, where he started all 13 games last season, or move inside to guard? Parks has been splitting his reps more evenly between the two positions of late thanks in large part to the emergence of Blake Miller, who’s making a push to be the program’s first true freshman to start an opener at offensive tackle since Mitch Hyatt did it in 2015.

“It’s really not about Walker as (much as) it is Blake Miller,” Swinney said. “Who’s the fifth-best guy?”

That could be Miller, whom Swinney said is most comfortable playing tackle at this point of his development. It might also be Bryn Tucker, Mitchell Mayes, Dietrick Pennington or John Williams should the Tigers elect to keep Parks on the edge. One of those four would likely be the starting right guard in that scenario, though Mayes hasn’t been part of the competition for much of the last week as the junior works to get back to full strength.

“Is it Blake? Is it Mitchell? Is it (true freshman Collin) Sadler? Who is it? Who’s the fifth-best guy?” Swinney said. “And depending on who that is, we’ve got flexibility. If it means moving Walker to guard, if Blake is the fifth-best guy and he’s more comfortable at tackle right now, then that’s what we do.”

But it’s not just the starting five Swinney and his offensive line coach, Thomas Austin, are trying to finalize. Not at a position where injuries can mount in a hurry.

Swinney said he has “11 ½ guys that I would trust pretty good right now,” including Miller and Sadler, who could play guard or tackle. Even if they don’t start, Clemson’s two offensive line signees went through spring practices as early enrollees and have shown Swinney they’re ready to be part of the rotation up front.

“I can tell y’all right now, they’re both going to play,” Swinney said. “They’re both going to help us. They’ve proven that. They’ve been here since January, and they’re ready.”

Swinney said he’d love for that number to increase almost to a full three-deep that he feels comfortable enough to play between now and the season opener. Either way, the group’s depth is in a much better place than it was the time a year ago now that it’s had a year to mature.

But the primary order of business is figuring out which five are going to run out there first at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

“Just more functionality. More competition,” Swinney said of the offensive line. “More guys that are capable of competing, and that’s making us better.”

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During his post-practice availability via Zoom on Wednesday evening, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney was asked if the Tigers have gotten through the last few practices without any new injuries. “We’re in a (…)

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