NOTEBOOK: The Walking Wounded

CLEMSON — How tough of a year has it already been for the Clemson offensive line? Figure that six of the top 10 offensive linemen Brad Scott had on his initial depth chart at the start of the season have been on or are still on the injury report, including reserve guard Jamarus Grant who nicked up his shoulder in Tuesday's practice.

"That's not the way you draw it up," Scott said following Wednesday's practice. "You know last year we played almost an entire year without a significant injury. Maybe an ankle here or there or something, but nothing that would cause a guy to miss a game.

"It has caught up with us right now."

It has caught up with them so much that Scott will start former player-coach Bobby Hutchinson at left guard when the 20th-ranked Tigers host Maryland in a key ACC Atlantic Division showdown in Death Valley this Saturday.

This time last month, Hutchinson was working with graduate assistant coach Mike Dooley to coach up the scout team offensive linemen.

"It has been a wild ride," Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson replaces redshirt freshman David Smith, who will sit out Saturday's game and could miss the Wake Forest game because of a severely sprained ankle. Left tackle Chris Hairston says he will be dressed against Maryland, but he doesn't know if he will play or not. Right now he is still listed as questionable.

There will be no official word on Grant's status until after Thursday's practice.

With Hutchinson's insertion to the starting lineup, it means for the fourth time this year, Clemson will have a different starting lineup along the offensive line.

"It has been a challenge every week to throw together a new lineup, but you know what, we prepare them that way," Scott said. "When you are a second-team guy, I push those guys. I try to push them as hard as the first team guys because I always remind them that they are an injury away from being a starter. And that has played out this year."

Hutchinson, who came back to work as a player the week of The Citadel game, knows that first hand.

"It was tough initially coming back because I had been off for a month and then I come back that first week against The Citadel, it was tough. I was out of shape and I was sluggish. I was trying to get back in shape," he said.

"It's been fun. I'm enjoying it, but the toughest part is coming back and getting back in shape."

The second toughest part is building continuity, something Hutchinson and Scott seem to be concerned about now that the Tigers (3-1, 1-0) are starting their four different offensive line in five games.

"You like to have some of the same guys in there so you can get used to them," Hutchinson said. "Some of our blocking schemes rely on each other to be able to work together.

"It is tough, but we trust everyone that is next to us so we will be fine."

Scott is doing all he can to get his group through this week, while he hopes he is putting his team in position to win Saturday. After that he welcomes next week's open date.

"If we can find a way to get through this game Saturday and get to the open date we might get a couple of guys back and we will be a better team in the long run because we have established so much more depth now," he said. "That will be a plus."

Clemson coach Tommy Bowden is so worried about his team's health right now that he scaled back practice Wednesday and took off the pads. During the last month, practices on Tuesday and Wednesday have been hard hitting ones.

"This is usually a shoulder pad day, but I had to take them off because we are too beat up," Bowden said.

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