The first thing we should qualify is that the Spring Game is not to be viewed as a showcase of things to come for the 2003 season. Last year's Spring offensive explosion, followed by one of the most dismal offensive seasons in history, should be a testiment to that fact.
But there are a few things you should look for Saturday that are indicators of potential success for the coming season.
Center: Who will start at center? Keep an eye on #74 John Strickland, #52 Jeff Barnes and #63 Kris Mick. Strickland is the leader at the moment but Barnes is making a strong push for the job with Mick pushing for serious playing time. Your center is your most important position on the offensive line and it is imperative that this position be settled by the end of Spring Drills.
Remember that the teams will be evenly split. Meaning, the projected starters will not all be bunched onto one or the other team. The teams will be chosen by draft pick so you are going to have to focus on individual players and execution position by position.
Quarterback: Dondrial is the starter. Mike Rathe is the backup. Both will receive plenty of snaps. Look for execution and field generalship. Are they taking control of their teams? Are they checking off at the line of scrimmage into proper sets and plays? Are they using their pockets of protection? Are they keeping cool heads under pressure? Are they pressing to make plays or are they going with the flow and taking what the defense gives them? Those are the key areas to examine this Saturday when evaluating Pinkins and Rathe.
Secondary: Keep an eye on who plays where back there. None of us are sure how this secondary is going to pan-out just yet. We expect Stackhouse, Eiland, Robinson and Crawford to be the two sets of starters. How they do as individuals in terms of man coverage is what we are going to be focusing on this Saturday.
Something else to remember. Try to not pay too much attention to the walkons. They usually do well in these games because they are the players with the biggest hearts and this is their time to shine. But if you will notice, the scholarship players are smoother and more athletic ... when they turn it on they are clearly the better players in most instances. Derrick Ray may be the one exception.
With that said we are looking forward to seeing Rod Wilson and Jamacia Jackson in action this Saturday. Let's add Jermaine Harris to that list as well. We should see some form of dominance by our safeties this weekend.
Defensive Line: #57 Darrell Shropshire is the man out there that you are going to want to keep an eye on this Saturday. We've seen him in practices and for once, we may have the real deal in a JuCo transfer. Also keep an eye on Preston Thorne and Randy Jackson. These two guys along with RFr Brandon Schweitzer are key components to the team's success this coming season.
George Gause and Moe Thompson are starters at defensive end. Jason Capers and Darel Slay are the backups, although we're sure Slay will be there only temporarily and not on every play - he will see time at linebacker as well. This gives us one of the better groups of defensive ends we have ever fielded, (not to mention that Silas is on his way). Coach Cosh has given them free reign to do whatever it takes to put pressure on opposing QBs this season. What that basically means is that their mission is to simply line up and go on the snap of the ball. We are anxious to witness some sort of promise from this group. They will be going against a fair group of offensive tackles in the Spring Game. Another note on the DEs. It will be interesting to see what Fran Person and James Scott do at DE.
Running Backs: This is the one position that you absolutely cannot predict based upon the Spring Game. Here's why. Two years ago Nate Gary dominated in the Spring Game and that was the last time we heard from him. Last year Gonzie Gray was the leading rusher ... again, he disappeared by Fall. We are predicting a strong showing from Kenny Irons and Daccus Turman this year. But if Regis Edgerson or Gonzie Gray were to excel in this game we would not be surprised. If you are looking for anything from our running backs concentrate on this. Are they picking up their blocking assignments? Are they catching the ball out of the backfield and picking up positive yardage? Are they where they are supposed to be if the QB finds himself in trouble and needs to dump the ball off to avoid losing yardage? Are they hitting the inside holes hard and picking up yardage after initial contact at the line of scrimmage?
That's all that really matters in this scrimmage where the running backs are concerned. If they do those things then they will turn an exciting play or two during the course of the contest.
Wide Receivers: Are they blocking downfield? Are they putting distance between the secondary and themselves? Are they making the tough catches? Are they picking up yards after the catch ... even after initial contact? Is Mikal Goodman going to be our goto possession receiver this season? Is Chavez Donnings going to finally have his breakout campaign? Is Troy Williamson going to suffer a sophomore slump? Is Taqiy Muhammad going to be the big play threat he is being touted to be?
That's about it. If you manage to glean major information from those key areas by watching the game in person Saturday you will be doing better than most. And sure, there are other areas to concern yourself with such as the entire offensive line, the kicking game, the linebackers, etc. And oh yes ... keep an eye on the tight ends. Notice anything different? Notice them lining up in any particularly unusual formations?
Be sure to listen to the postgame show on The Station with the Best Gamecock Coverage, News Radio A.M. 560 WVOC. We will be breaking down these key points and more from 3:05 to 5:00 and taking your calls in the process.
And stop by our GamecockInsider.com tailgate get-together before and after the game. There will be plenty to eat and drink for all. And you will have a great time talking Gamecock football with likeminded fans. We'll see you there.
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