News broke Thursday afternoon that Clemson’s Hunter Rayburn is medically retiring from football due to neck problems and will stay with the program as a student assistant coach, as first reported by Larry Williams of Rivals.
What does this mean for the Tigers’ offensive line for 2022? It means a lot.
Rayburn was expected to be Clemson’s starting center in 2022, a position it took ownership of during the second half of the 2021 season. The Pensacola, Florida resident started six games last season and played in nine games overall at center and left guard.
It was obvious when Rayburn was playing, especially at center, Clemson’s play was much better in the middle of the line. In his first career start, the rising redshirt junior helped the Tigers rush for 231 yards in a win against Boston College last season.
Clemson also rushed for 188 yards against Florida State, 332 vs. Wake Forest and 265 against South Carolina with Rayburn playing more than 60 snaps.
With Rayburn (6-4, 320) now moving to the sidelines, what does Clemson do at the center position?
Mason Trotter (6-2, 285) shared the position with Rayburn last year. The rising redshirt junior played in seven games overall after missing the first five games due to a hand injury and then the Cheez-It Bowl. However, ClemsonSI confirmed there is uncertainty with Trotter’s eligibility.
If Trotter can’t play, the Tigers’ experienced depth at the position will take an even bigger hit.
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Trent Howard (6-3, 290) is another option. Howard, who will be a redshirt sophomore, was listed as a reserve center last year and played in just three games during the course of the season.
The only player listed on the current roster, officially, as a center is redshirt freshman Ryan Linthicum. The hope has always been that Linthicum would eventually take over the job. At this point, despite his limited experience, Linthicum might be the Tigers’ best option, especially if Trotter can’t play.
Linthicum (6-3, 300) played in just two games last season (SC State and UConn) and totaled just seven snaps while being redshirted. He spent last season in the Tigers’ Power Hour program, as he attempted to get bigger and stronger while also learning how to get his body prepared for the college game.
The Damascus, Maryland native has the credentials to be an All-ACC center. Coming out of high school, Rivals.com listed him as the No. 1 center in the country. He was an Under Armor All-American, as well.
With Rayburn now retired, those are the three guys who will get most of the work at center this spring. Also remember, Rayburn crossed trained at left guard and started a few games there. So, the Tigers will also be down a man in the rotation there as well.
The good news for the Tigers is they will get back promising lineman Dietrick Pennington. The redshirt freshmen (6-5, 335) went down with a season-ending injury early last season, so he could help provide some depth at guard, depending on where he is at in his rehab.
Clemson could look into the transfer portal for a quality center to help with depth at the position and to challenge whoever the starter is coming out of the spring. However, there does not appear to be someone in the portal at this time, so the Tigers will likely wait until the spring season is over and see who has jumped into the portal that they could possibly bring in.
Regardless, someone new will not be able to enroll until summer classes begin in May, and that depends on if they find anyone at all.
The Tigers will begin spring practices on March 2, and are among the favorites to win the national title according to Fanduel at +1000.