Youth Movement in Atlanta

Clemson's offensive line has been the subject of much controversy over the course the last few seasons. First the line was too small. Then the line was injury riddled. These days, it's a question of whether or not the line has developed that "killer mentality."

Despite the speculation of beat writers and sports editors alike, the fact remains that the play of the Tigers' offensive line has seemingly gotten better each week.

After grinding out just 35 yards on the ground against Georgia three weeks ago, the Tigers' trenchmen have helped pave the way for 124 and 184 yards respectively in each of their last two games.

Last week, the line also provided Charlie Whitehurst the luxury of seemingly having all day to throw as the unit failed to yield a sack to Middle Tennessee State.

"We're getting better every week," said starting center Tommy Sharpe. "It takes a little while to get everybody on the same page, but it seems like we've improved from week-to-week, and that's what we've got to do to keep winning."

Sharpe is right. The Tigers have to improve up front this weekend if Clemson expects to beat Georgia Tech.

The problem is, however, the Jackets aren't likely to cooperate. Georgia Tech's defense is giving up a mere 72 yards per game on the ground, and a slim 13.6 points per game on the scoreboard.

"They've got speed at every position on defense," notes Sharpe. "Those guys have been flying around the ball and making plays this year. We know we are going to have to play well to win."

If the Tigers plan on handling all that speed up front, they'll be doing it with as a many as five freshmen offensive linemen in the game at various points.

Kind of scary isn't it? At least on paper it is anyway.

Brandon Pilgrim, Marion Dukes, Roman Fry, Nathan Bennett and Dustin Fry are all starting to figure into the mix in coach Ron West's unit this weekend.

While some teams would scoff at the notion of playing so many freshmen on the offensive line, the Tigers are going full-speed ahead with a serious youth movement up front.

"The competition in practice has been great," said senior left tackle William Henry.

"Any great school you are going to have competition at every position. Right now, Roman has been pushing me, and Dustin is pushing Tommy, everybody has been in a battle this fall. And now you've got a true freshman in Marion Dukes starting to push Greg Walker."

The good news is that three of the above mentioned players are redshirt freshmen. These are guys that have been in the program for over a year now, and these are guys are starting to come into their own.

"Every back-up we have is very capable of stepping up and contributing when their number is called. Most of the second team guys got a lot of reps last week against Middle Tennessee," said Tommy Sharpe. "It was good to see them some reps."

Bennett has started the first three games of the season as a redshirt freshman at right guard, but even he is starting to be pushed more now by another youngster in redshirt sophomore Chip Myrick.

In fact, it appears as though every position on the offensive line is now involved in a heated competition for playing time this week during practice.

"When you have somebody right behind you, it forces you to play mistake free football," added Sharpe. "And we're starting to see that now with our guys, so hopefully that will just help us play at a higher level on gameday."

We'll find out on Saturday evening whether or not Sharpe's notion proves to be correct, but for now, the Tigers' offensive line seems to be getting younger and younger by the week.

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