No Preseason Hype Here

CLEMSON - Let the pundits keep talking about Clemson's "inexperienced" offensive line. That's just fine with center Thomas Austin.

CUTigers Interview with Thomas Austin: (5:57)

Austin, the leader of the offensive line and one of the top centers in the ACC headed into the 2008 season, has heard all the talk now for quite some time.

"Clemson has a great team, except for all of the questions on its offensive line."

"The Tigers would be one of the top teams in the nation, were it not for their offensive line."

"Clemson could be in trouble against Alabama breaking in four new starters on the offensive line."

After a while, even though some it may be true, it all starts to sound the same.

However for the actual players being discussed ad nauseum by all of these so-called "experts," it may not be such a bad thing in the long run.

"We've heard it all offseason and all through the summer," Austin told CUTigers.com. "It's motivation. Our guys responded well during the summer and we've definitely got a chip on our shoulder. We don't want to be the weak link on the team, but we like being the underdog. We like having the bull's eye on our chest and we feel like we are going to surprise some people this fall."

If the Tigers are, in fact, going to do any surprising it will come with a host of new players doing the majority of the work.

Remember, Austin is the only fulltime starter back on this year's team from a year ago, and even he spent half the year playing a different position from where he is now at center.

Three other players have at least one career start under their belt, including left tackle Chris Hairston, who started against Auburn in the bowl game and played well, right guard Barry Humphries, who started almost half of last season at center, and right tackle Cory Lambert. However a handful of redshirt freshmen are also in the mix for playing time- namely Mason Cloy at left guard and center, David Smith at right guard, and Landon Walker as a backup left tackle. Also, true freshman Antoine McClain is the second team right tackle.

As many as five freshmen will see the field for Clemson's offensive line this season.
When you add it all up, Clemson will not field one senior on its offensive line in 2008. The Tigers will also play five freshmen (four redshirt and one true), a sophomore and four juniors.

So yes, it seems safe to say there's going to be some growing pains along the way.

"We are the inexperienced part of the team and that may not be such a bad thing," Austin said. "The good thing about having so many good young players like we've got is we have so much competition for starting spots.

"You can't have a bad day out there so if you get bumped back on the depth chart. Coach Scott is famous for hiring and firing a guy in the same day. Those guys are getting coached hard but they are responding really well too."

By most accounts, the one redshirt freshman who is in line to get the most playing time is Mason Cloy.

Cloy has been practicing as the second team center, and is also competing with Barry Humphries at left guard, and he's also even played some right guard given that David Smith has been out due to a dislocated big toe.

"Mason is doing an excellent job because he's really working hard at two positions - center and guard," Austin said. "And he's responding well. But all of those guys are physically ready. They just need to get in there and get more comfortable. Coach Scott expects a lot of those guys and is coaching them hard. You want to have him yelling at you because if he's not yelling at you then you aren't getting coached."

Yet the one constant through all of the changes and moving around up front - is Austin. Already mentioned by Tommy Bowden and offensive line coach Brad Scott as one of the more productive players on the team through the first week of camp, Austin is also now finding a comfort zone at center.

"It's been good for me to work on my skills at center," he said. "I've been watching some film on pro guys trying to get better and I'm more comfortable with it. It naturally gives me more of a leadership role just because you are the center of the offense and it should help us make more complex schemes having a little more experience when the guys around don't necessarily have that."

Furthermore, Austin says the first part of camp has been exactly what it needed to be - physical. After all, Clemson's line has been criticized in the past couple of years for not being as dominant up front as it should be.

That may not be a problem this year.

"Every day we are ending with live 11-on-11 drills. You get five shots. Whoever loses, whoever doesn't win three has to do up-downs. It's been very physical," he said. "We've had some fights but we are bunch of 20 and 21 year old guys out there, that's what you expect when it's hot. The competition level has been great and guys are really playing hard."

Meanwhile the lack of hype for Clemson's most maligned unit continues.

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