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#TGW: Numbers Up Front

Aug. 6, 2014

By Matt Winkeljohn
The Good Word

As Georgia Tech went about practicing twice Wednesday for the first of three times in training camp, the Yellow Jackets found themselves tapping some of the offensive line depth that head coach Paul Johnson has spoken about.

Except that, according to Johnson, it might not be depth.

Even though there apparently are enough O-linemen that the previous assumption by some observers that junior Bryan Chamberlain is likely to be a starting tackle has come under challenge via increased competition, semantics sort of re-framed the notion that the Jackets are flush up front.

Syntax became an issue when the coach was asked after the morning session — which was in pads – how Tech goes about business differently with more offensive linemen around than in some years past.

That’s become more a topic of interest because projected starting left guard Trey Braun missed practice again with an injury of unknown origin, and that left big redshirt freshman Shamire Devine manning that spot with the first unit.

“Let’s not confuse depth with numbers,” Johnson said. “Numbers is you’ve got a lot of bodies. Depth would be you’ve got a lot of guys you feel good about playing. There’s a difference. We’ve got a lot of numbers, which gives you a chance to have more depth.”

Earlier in camp, Johnson said this may be the first year that he’s ever had enough “numbers” to run three full offensive lines in and out of practice. Given the duration and work rate of pre-season camp, having numbers is a good thing.

Eventually, a bulk of work will be funneled toward players deemed most capable of helping the Jackets on the field so they can better refine their brutishness.

Already, some young lads, Devine included, are making impressions.

Senior Shaquille Mason is the man at right guard, period, and Braun is the left guard if and when healthy (his injury does not appear to be something that would threaten the Aug. 30 opener vs. Wofford).

Sophomore Freddie Burden is competing at center with junior Auburn transfer Thomas O’Reilly, and it gets a more interesting from there.

“I don’t know who the starting tackles are. I think [redshirt freshman] Chris Griffin is going to be one of them,” the coach said. “I don’t know who the other one is.”

Chamberlain started the first seven games last season at right tackle, benefitting somewhat from the early-season absence of injured multi-tasker Ray Beno. He came out of the spring holding that spot. Griffin secured that post on the left side on the post-spring depth chart.

After a moment, Johnson mentioned Chamberlain and then Errin Joe. Then, the boss invoked true freshmen Trey Klock of Hummelstown, Pa., and sophomore Kyle Stallard of nearby Alpharetta.

There is time to sort this out, of course, and Saturday’s scrimmage may turn out to be a bigger tool of discernment than all three padded practices to date.

This isn’t so much a question: Devine remains large (listed at 6-feet-7, 370 pounds), and he has skill. His fitness level and some injury matters prevented him from playing as a true freshman.

He’s going to get a crack at action this fall as – easily – the biggest offensive lineman of the Johnson era at Tech. The Tri-Cities High alum is not a finished product by any stretch, yet his potential clearly appeals.

This is kind of like the semantics split between numbers and depth. Devine quite likely can contribute, but how much may be in a way beyond his current control. He’s not yet ready to run a great number of consecutive plays.

“He’s lost from last year’s fall camp probably 30 pounds,” Johnson said. “He’s big. I don’t know that he’s going to lose another 20 this year, but in a perfect world, yeah, he needs to lose some more.

“But he’s going to end up having to play where he is [weight wise]. Very seldom is a guy going to lose 60-70 pounds in one year.”

On the other side of scrimmage, where defensive line coach Mike Pelton certainly does not have the “numbers” to work with that O-line coach Mike Sewak and O-line assistant Ray Rychleski have at their disposal, depth is more a trick.

Projected starting tackle Shawn Green was jerseyed red with ailment, and backup tackle Pat Gamble is ailing on the sidelines as well, too.

On more encouraging notes, Johnson was pleased enough with the work of A-backs Deon Hill, Tony Zenon and B.J. Bostic that he mentioned all without being asked specifically about any.

So there’s that.

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