On the surface, Nealon Greene's 23-game streak as Clemson's starting quarterback would appear to be in jeopardy.
The junior suffered a bruised left shoulder early in the third quarter of Clemson's 35-3 win over Maryland last Saturday. Greene left the game and did not return, leaving redshirt freshman Billy Luckie to mop up.
With a trip to 15th-ranked Virginia waiting this Saturday (3:30 p.m., Channel 6), Greene remains gimpy. But Tigers coach Tommy West said he's "optimistic" the Yonkers, N.Y., product will be ready for the Cavaliers.
"He's a tough guy," West said Tuesday. "He has played hurt. When he separated his shoulder at Florida State (in 1994) and came back in two weeks, that sort of makes you optimistic."
Greene missed the Wake Forest game the following week, then returned in time to start the final three games of his freshman season. He led the Tigers to a road upset of North Carolina in his first game back.
"Going into that game, we really didn't think he'd have a chance to play," West said. "In pre-game warmups, the quarterbacks coach (Clyde Christensen) said there's no way. Right before we went in, I went up to Nealon and said, `Cut it loose. I want to see you throw a deep ball.' He gave it everything he had and we started him. Then, on the third play of the game, he threw a deep ball down to the 1-yard-line."
The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Greene has proved his mettle more recently as well, West said. A month ago in Tallahassee, Fla., Greene shrugged off a knee injury to start against Florida State.
"If we had a sophomore or junior backup, we might not have played Nealon in that game," West said. "He didn't look good in warmups. He was gimpy on his knee, and that's not the kind of defense you want to be gimpy (against) at all. I decided we'd give him a shot."
Greene, who has a 15-10 record as the starter, suffered this latest injury when 273-pound Maryland lineman Johnnie Hicks slammed him to the turf. Clemson was leading 21-3 at the time and Greene had completed five of 10 passes for 47 yards and a touchdown.
Luckie came on to lead the Tigers to a pair of touchdowns, including a 69-yard drive on his first possession. The win was Clemson's third straight - all in the Atlantic Coast Conference - and left the Tigers 5-3 after another slow start.
Luckie, a 6-2, 205-pounder from Fort Walton Beach, Fla., will take the majority of the snaps in practice early this week, West said, while Greene attempts to recover.
"I think Nealon is hurting right now," West said. "He was hurting Saturday going into that game."
If Greene couldn't go against Virginia, it would leave Luckie to make his first career start against the ACC's third-ranked defense.
"(Starting Luckie) would limit us some as far as what we can do at the line of scrimmage," West said, referring to the audibles Greene often calls. "On the other hand, I think Billy is capable of doing some things that would measure in a little."
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