“Never trust offseason offensive line hype from Clemson coaches.” This is a motto I live by every August. Before the 2020 season, the staff spoke glowingly about all the big strides the offensive line was making. Once the season began, we saw them struggle to the point of dragging Travis Etienne’s yards per carry down from 7.8 to 5.4. Since then, I enter each season very skeptical about Clemson’s offensive line.
As such, I did not have particularly high hopes for the group in 2022. Once Mason Trotter and Hunter Rayburn were lost for the year and we started hearing that two players would switch positions and a true freshman would start at right tackle, I was highly concerned. Here’s a flashback to our season preview for the position:
Putnam struggled at times last year but was lauded by Coach Swinney for playing through a significant foot injury and giving the Tigers some consistency up front. Will Putnam may be the biggest X-factor on the team. If he excels at his new position it will solidify the offensive line and the ripple effects will go a long way in fixing the offense...
While they want to get the “best five” on the field, I worry about having a right guard playing center, a right tackle playing right guard, and a true freshman at right tackle. The Tigers have options galore and Coach Swinney says the offensive line won the day in their last scrimmage, but I’d still expect it to take a few weeks before this group gels.
Will Putnam deserves a lot of credit. He handled the position change from right guard to center fairly well and while he didn’t necessarily take a jump from 2021, he managed to play just as well at a new position. Had he struggled, they may have been in major trouble, but he was solid. Putnam led all Clemson offensive linemen with 1,000 snaps.
Staying on the interior, Clemson started Marcus Tate at left guard. He was thrust into duty as a true freshman last year and frankly wasn’t ready. He got better as the year progressed and this year as a sophomore was much better. A leg injury cost him the last three games of the season. Without him, the offensive line was badly exposed against Tennessee.
At the other guard position, Walker Parks shifted over from right tackle to play right guard this season. He was excellent at right tackle in 2021, but struggled to find his footing at the new position. This is another example how shifting offensive linemen around to get the “best five” on the field doesn’t always net the best result. Hopefully, he can move back to tackle or there was some other factor we are not privy to that held him back. The Tigers need more from the interior offensive line and with Jordan McFadden leaving for the NFL a tackle spot is opening up.
The aforementioned Jordan McFadden was Clemson’s best offensive linemen. He played through an injury for much of the year so he didn’t make big improvements from last season, but he was still a stalwart at left tackle. On the other side at right tackle, true freshman Blake Miller started from game one. He had some issues with false starts early in the year, but really settled in and was a plus player for Clemson, especially as a run blocker. He has a very bright future at Clemson.
Even though Jordan McFadden is departing, Clemson could get much better on the offensive line in 2023 as all four other starters return. It will be Coach Thomas Austin’s second year in the role and their success will be a big statement on the impact he is making.
A lot may depend on how they shuffle players around. We’ve now seen Matt Bockhorst (2021) and Walker Parks (2022) struggle after being moved. Could they keep everyone in the same spot except Walker Parks? Moving Parks to left tackle would allow the rest of the line to remain unchanged and they’d just need to plug a hole at right guard (Mitchell Mayes?). Do they move Putnam back to right guard and give someone like Trent Howard, Bryn Tucker, or Ryan Linthicum a shot at starting center? These will all be interesting Fall Camp storylines we’ll be following. This group should get better next season, but as always, “never trust offseason offensive line hype from Clemson coaches.”