VETTEL: Spurrier Year Two Underway

While in Columbia, South Carolina for Sunday's baseball telecast of the Gators and Gamecocks (ugh, don't remind me!) I was able to catch a glimpse of the 2006 South Carolina football team. The Gamecocks went through a two-hour scrimmage as part of their spring practices.

It was also a chance to check up on old friends as the Gamecocks staff includes two Steve Spurriers, Jamie Speronis, John Hunt and Robert Gillespie. I will share with you my conversation with Robert at the end of this article.

Carolina Offense Should Improve

Despite a rebuilt and physically limited offensive line, I think South Carolina will be a better offensive team this year. The primary reason for that is the improvement of quarterback Blake Mitchell. The junior signal caller has a year with the head ball coach under his belt and now he is much more comfortable running the offense.

In addition to the experience of Mitchell, the Gamecocks return perhaps the best player regardless of position in the entire SEC in receiver Sidney rice. The lanky wide-out was impossible to cover for Carolina DB's and on the rare occasion that they did keep up with him, he'd just go up and make the play anyway. Add in Kenny McKinley and Tampa native OJ Murdock and Mitchell should have more than one option. The Gamecocks also showed the ability to get the ball to the tight end and running backs Mike Davis (5-88) and Cory Boyd (10-64) showed me they are a nice one-two punch.

Mitchell has better stay healthy, because the backup threw four interceptions, two for touchdowns. That is a bit questionable because the guys up front just aren't real good. John Hunt has just seven scholarship players this spring and told me that he'll likely need some help form incoming freshmen in the fall.

Defensively, Carolina looks like they have issues, especially in the secondary. While Spurrier's passing game can make any cover guy look bad, Carolina simply didn't seem to have the players back there. The early NFL departures of safety Ko Simpson and corner Jonathan Joseph have obviously hurt this unit in a big way.

After the scrimmage Steve Spurrier told the media he plans to be more actively involved with the defense this year. (Haven't we heard this before?) "The head coach is responsible for everything that happens in the football program," Spurrier said. "So he should tell the defensive coaches, ‘here are our coverages and here are our fronts. Now coach it.'"

Last year South Carolina struggled with the dual coordinator system of Tyrone Nix and John Thompson. The school settled the two remaining years of Thompson's contract and Nix is the man in charge of defense now.

Overall it'll be a transitional year for South Carolina football. Transition from a strong defense that kept the team in games until the offense finally connected to a more dangerous offensive team that might need to win a shootout or two along the way.

After the scrimmage I spoke with former Gator running back Robert Gillespie about his first year as a full-time assistant coach, working for the man he played for and facing the Gators come November. Gillespie was a senior on Steve Spurrier's final Gator squad and had a solid career in Gainesville, rushing for 1,854 yards and catching passes for another 1,091. He's is one of just two runners in UF history to both run for and catch for over one thousand yards. The other is Errict Rhett.

LV: Now that you're a full-time coach, how's it going for you?

RG: It's going good. It's a great opportunity to be up here coaching with Coach Spurrier and trying to get things turned around up here.

LV: What's it like to be coaching with a man you played for?

RG: It's been a pretty easy transition. I'm very fortunate to get my first coaching opportunity with a staff I'm pretty much familiar with and to be in an offense that I played in.

LV: How does that help you with your running backs since they know you played in this offense, in this conference?

RG: I think it helps in that they respect what I say to them a lot more. I try to give them the ins and outs and some of the things I did to help me. So I feel like they value my opinion when I get on them and I think that's a fortunate situation too. If I say it, I can also put it on tape and show them what I'm talking about and tell them this is why you do it. I have a great group of running backs and young guys that I can mold and get them to do the things that fit this offense.

LV: Tell me about those guys, what do you think of your talent there?

RG: It's pretty good. We've got Mike Davis and Bobby Wallace and we played them as true freshmen last year. Those guys came along and got a lot better as the year went on. And we have an older guy in Cory Boyd back and he's pushing the entire group to get better.

LV: Did you see a change in the mindset after the success the team had last year that they might be feeling more that they can compete for a championship in the SEC?

RG: Definitely. Being at Florida, that's what we had when we stepped on the field. We had a mindset that nobody could stop what we did; we weren't scared of anybody and we had that swagger about us. That's what this team lacked, but once we started winning some games we started to feel we could play with anybody. Hopefully that'll carry over to next year.

LV: Can this team be a contender in the SEC East?

RG: No doubt, we have the facilities and the fan base and we're doing a real good job of getting the players that fit what we do.

LV: What's it going to be like being on the other sideline in The Swamp come November?

RG: It's definitely going to be special. It was special playing against them up here and we were fortunate to come out with a win. But it's going to something very different to run out there not wearing orange and blue. I'm always a Gator in my heart, but right now South Carolina is paying the bills.

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