12th-ranked Clemson deals with thinning roster, depth issues
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) Next man up is more than just coach speak at Clemson, it's the 12th-ranked Tigers way of life so far this season.
Wide receiver Mike Williams is out indefinitely with a fractured bone in his neck, the latest starter out of the lineup. Clemson has lost at least five expected first-teamers since June to injuries, suspensions or their own choice to leave, a talent drain that's thinned the Tigers depth chart - along with the patience of coach Dabo Swinney.
''Hopefully, we'll be able to grow some guys up,'' he said.
And a lot of areas where it's necessary.
Things started in June with kicker Ammon Lakip's drug arrest. Swinney suspended Lakip for fall camp and the first three games of the season. Soon after, senior left tackle Isaiah Battle entered the NFL supplemental draft.
It has not been easy for coaches or players to watch front-line players disappear from the lineup.
When pressed on Reader's situation last month, the usually friendly Swinney grew testy.
''All those others guys that aren't here, that's not who were focused on,'' he said.
Quarterback Deshaun Watson acknowledged the struggle in losing teammates.
''There are times where you can get frustrated with it, but next man step up,'' Watson said. ''Coach Swinney's motto is that and that's what we've got to do.''
Watson is especially impacted by the losses on offense.
Battle's departure - he was taken by the St. Louis Rams in the summer, was cut and then re-signed to their practice squad - meant Mitch Hyatt became the program's first true freshman to start at offensive tackle since 1944.
Swinney said Hyatt graded out strongly in the 49-10 win over FCS opponent Wofford last week. The coach is confident the 6-foot-5, 295-pound guard can hold up protecting Watson's blind side.
Clemson has recruited strongly as the receiver spot with highly regarded newcomers like Ray-Ray McCloud and Deon Cain joining sophomore Artavis Scott, who led the team with eight touchdown receptions as a freshman last year.
Williams, though, was the downfield security blanket for Watson. The junior receiver caught 57 passes a year ago for 1,030 yards and six touchdowns.
Co-offensive coordinator and receivers coach Jeff Scott told his wideouts this week ''there's not anybody in the country that's going to be feeling sorry for the Clemson wide receivers,'' he said. ''We've got plenty of guys. There's no excuses.''
The losses have not been restricted to starters.
Backup defensive end Ebenezer Ogundeko was dismissed from the team in May because of his arrest for financial transactional fraud. Rising redshirt freshman Korie Rogers, who Swinney said would play a lot at linebacker this fall, left the team in August despite the coaching staff's strong efforts to change his mind.
While the roster shrinkage shouldn't cost Clemson early on, things will get tougher for the preseason Atlantic Coast Conference favorites. The Tigers start league play at Louisville on Sept. 17 before facing No. 9 Notre Dame and No. 15 Georgia Tech their next two games.
The only guaranteed returnee is Lakip, whose suspension ends after the Louisville game. Williams will have his fracture re-evaluated in midseason, yet Swinney said there is no certainty he'll heal enough to play this fall.
Clemson will do what all teams do: Play on with who they've got.
''We've got plenty of guys who can play,'' Tigers center Jay Guillermo said. ''So I'm not worried about that.''