The South Carolina football team held their ninth practice of the fall Thursday morning on the practice fields. For the first time this fall, the offensive line and defensive line went one-on-one, mono a mono with each other during individual position drills. With defensive line coach Brad Lawing in his guy's ears and offensive line coach Shawn Elliott in his guy's ears, it quickly became the most intense moments of the nine practices.
Going up against one of the best defensive lines in the country is a difficult task for any offensive line, particularly one that has been a weak spot during most of Steve Spurrier's time in Columbia. However, the Gamecock offensive line appeared to be up to the challenge. Each side one their fair share of the battles with the defensive line winning a majority of the major battles. Jadeveon Clowney ran over Mike Matulis on their first battle, but Matulis came right back and held his own against the nation's top prospect in the second battle. Fellow freshman Brandon Shell faced off one of the league's best defensive ends, Devin Taylor. Though Taylor ultimately won the battles, Shell went toe-to-toe and didn't back down. The biggest battle of the day occurred when Justice Cunningham was matched up with Melvin Ingram. The two collided and neither budged.
For the first time this fall, Matulis was in a garnet jersey after having to wear yellow the first eight days after injuring his foot prior to fall camp opening. Shell, though still wearing a yellow jersey due to his offseason shoulder surgery, was a full go. That just leaves Cody Gibson, who injured his knee last week while blocking Clowney, as the only lineman out.
"We've got two tackles (Matulis and Shell) back, so when we get Cody Gibson back we'll be at full strength," Elliott said. "Our depth is pretty good."
Depth is a word that came up time and time again last season, but in a negative way. Carolina lacked the depth across the line this season, but with three seniors and junior returning, along with a nice group of redshirt freshmen and freshmen, the offensive line appear s to be in pretty good shape.
Center T.J. Johnson, guard Terrence Campbell, and tackles Rokevious Watkins and Kyle Nunn are all returning players with starting experience, and redshirt freshman A.J. Cann is slated to start at the other guard position. Though that will likely be the starting line-up to begin the season, Elliott isn't guaranteeing anybody anything.
"I don't even know if the first five will start," Elliott said. "It's way too early to tell."
While that is all coach-talk, the young guys have been impressive, Particularly Matulis and Shell.
"(Matulis has) looked pretty good – really good actually," Elliott said. "He gets tired and sloppy like everyone else but he's making a lot of progress. I'm really pleased with him – he can play left and right (tackle).
"Shell sat out those practices (shoulder injury) and had that heat-related deal (Saturday), but he's getting better every day too," Elliott continued. "Both of those tackles (Matulis and Shell) play both positions. "
While they have been impressive so far, they are learning that this isn't high school anymore. They can't just rely on overpowering everyone and have to get used to the pace of the college game.
"The big thing with those young guys is they have to get in top shape," Elliott said. "They get tired easy because this game is a fast-moving game. They just have to get in game-type shape."
In order to be successful in the SEC you have to have a strong offensive line. With all the talent the Gamecocks have at the skill positions, an improved offensive line could mean trouble for the opponents.
The Gamecocks will practice at 8:30 Friday morning and it will be the last practice open to the public. Saturday's scrimmage will not be open to the public.
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