Graham comfortable with backfield this week

A week ago the South Carolina backfield was in a bad way with four running backs sidelined with injuries. When the Gamecocks walk into Neyland Stadium Saturday night to take on the Tennessee Volunteers, they will have four running backs available as opposed to just two a week ago.

If fourteenth-ranked South Carolina had to face Tennessee last weekend, running back coach Jay Graham would have probably aged 30 years last week. Not only would the Gamecocks be without starting running back Marcus Lattimore, whose season came to an abrupt end in the 14-12 win over Mississippi State, but they would have also likely been without Kenny Miles and Eric Baker. That would have left the Gamecocks with fifth-string true freshman running back in Brandon Wilds and a walk-on back-up that has yet to see a carry at South Carolina in Josh Hinch.

A week later and things are looking much brighter in the backfield. Miles, who was slated to be the starter in 2010 before Marcus Lattimore took over, is expected to be back. Miles sprained his wrist in a 45-42 win over Georgia a month and a half ago.

"I think so," Graham said on whether or not Miles would be available. "He's looked good in practice and I will talk with the trainer and make sure he's ready to go. It's day-to-day but I think it's good. He's practiced all week."

Graham says he does not know if Miles will have to play in a hard cast or if he can play without it. He said the trainers will evaluate it as the week closes and see which option Miles will be more comfortable with.

Baker, who has been limited by a sprained ankle and also has not played recently, should be available. Baker was the favorite to earn the starting spot in 2009 before injuries has slowed him down.

"Baker's back," Graham said. "He's been practicing all week and he's been doing well. We've got three or four guys ready to go."

That should give Graham options at the position with Wilds, Miles, Baker, and Hinch all available, but it's going to be Wilds that gets the start.

"He's been doing well – picking up blitzes and doing all that stuff," Graham said. "That's the most important thing. His ball security has been good, so I think he's ready to go."

Wilds will be making the first start of his career, though he has seen action in all seven games in special teams and has 13 carries on the season. That number may double this week as Wilds will get plenty of opportunities to run the ball. The inexperience is not something that really concerns Graham.

"When they're young you just go out and play," Graham said. "I don't think he will get frozen in that situation. If that would have happened it would probably happen in the Mississippi State game right there at the end of the game in the fourth quarter when he had to go in there and play. I think he's more mentally prepared this week."

The Gamecocks are in a battle with Georgia for the SEC East division title and a berth in the SEC Championship game in Atlanta, but Graham doesn't believe the players are as concerned about what the Bulldogs are doing as fans are.

"I don't think they really think about that," Graham said. "We control our own destiny so the most important thing is to go out and play the best that you can every game."

Though the Gamecocks and Bulldogs are tied atop the SEC East with three conference games remaining, South Carolina does control it's on destiny by virtue of the win over Georgia earlier this season. Perhaps if roles were reversed the players and coaches may be doing a little more scoreboard-watching.

"I guess," Graham said. "Maybe it would be different and maybe Georgia's watching us more than we're watching them, but it's important to us to play as hard as we can and win every game we possibly can."


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