With the 2004 season about get underway in the Spring, looming questions remain from the 2003 season. As a matter of fact, the biggest question may be one that has been asked and jousted about more often by Gamecocks fans, for the past two seasons actually; a question asked and answered in various ways more than any other.
Who will quarterback this season and simply put, will he get the job done?
Let's be honest with one another. The questions never revolve around physical ability - all doubts concern mental capabilities. Fair enough?
Two years ago Corey Jenkins was behind center and while he may have been the most mature and physical specimen to wear a garnet and black uniform in the past two decades ... Corey's mental approach to the position was lacking. In short, he had a linebacker's mentallity and he approached the position with that mindset. If he felt pressure he would tuck it and run. If he saw an open receiver down field he would tuck it and run. If he didn't like the flavor of his breakfast that morning ... he would tuck it and run. He was a physically punishing runner there is no doubt about that, but Corey wasn't your prototypical SEC quarterback by a long shot.
Enter Dondrial Pinkins. Pinkins has been a quarterback for the majority of his young life. As a fourteen year old freshman at Mitchell-Baker high school in Camilla, Georgia, he started as a quarterback. By his sophomore HS year he was leading his team to the state playoffs, a feat he would duplicate during his junior and senior seasons as well.
As a junior in the state of Georgia, Pinkins participated in the Punt, Pass and Kick contest held during halftime of the Georgia/Florida All-Star Game in the Atlanta Dome. The 'Thrilla from Camilla' as he was known by then, won going away with a pass of almost eighty yards the highlight of the day. It was a chunk of magnifical proportions that left the crowd oooing and awing.
But Pinkins' history as a QB had failed to impress instate Georgia college recruiters - they wanted him as a safety. Dondrial wanted to be a quarterback. Few realize it now, but Pinkins was the number one rated quarterback by recruiting gurus in the state of Georgia his senior season. A kid by the name of David Greene was number two.
So Dondrial Pinkins should have that quarterback mentallity that Corey Jenkins lacked, and he does. But another mental issue, one or two actually, comes into play when speaking of Dondrial. The first is his ability to lead on the field - Jenkins failed in this aspect of his game and many say it was because of the age difference - his inability to relate to the younger players. With Dondrial it is claimed that he is not vocal enough. The players believe in him, he is well respected, and the coaches obviously believe in him too. Every coach on the staff believes that Dondrial is the man to get the job done. But can he lead on the field? Then consider mental issue number two. When the ball is snapped, there is some question as to whether or not he makes the right decisions, makes the proper reads?
Therein lies the basic question heading into the 2004 season. If Dondrial is incapable of being a field general, then find someone who is. Easy right?
Open curtain and out steps Blake Mitchell.
Blake Mitchell, the redshirt freshman who without ever taking a snap in a live game in front of 85,000 fans ... was already being touted as the great savior. Fans had named him "The One" without ever seeing him in action. Even the media has no clue as Mitchell has been protected and off-limits for any interviews and/or evaluations since signing day last season. He is the most celebrated unknown since game two of Steve Tanneyhill's freshman campaign.
Now let's compare the two based upon what we know.
Dondrial Pinkins is a fifth year senior with eight years of QBing experience under his belt. He has shown flashes of brilliance and puffs of incompetence all at the same time. He is big, strong of body and strong of arm, and he runs the ball reasonably well. He has the support of his teammates and the coaches. He is a senior returning starter.
Blake Mitchell is a leader. He has, according to our best sources, an aura about him. He is a field general for his age. He has a solid grasp of the game of football and he works hard to better his game. His arm is adequate, his running ability suspect. He is underweight and therefore considered to be somehwhat fragile although that has not shown to be the case in practices from what we have gathered. He does need to add another 20 pounds of muscle to support his tall lanky frame. He has never taken a snap in an SEC football game.
You are the coach. What do you do? Think about it.
Okay, had time to think yet? Do you go with the experienced returning senior or with the upstart newcomer with potential? Remember the Gamecocks open on the road against SEC foe Vanderbilt this year. It is a must win, absolute must win, game!
So what do you do?
We will share with you now, exactly what the coaches are going to do. What they are going to do is ride their horse ... Dondrial Pinkins will start. He will be impossible to beat-out over the Spring therefore we must assume that he will be the starter going into the Summer. But it is going to be a fun battle to watch.
Blake Mitchell will get his chances and he will, no doubt, receive plenty of snaps this Spring and Summer. But remember, we're talking about a very conservative Lou Holtz and a very intune Skip Holtz when it comes to the final decision. And the smart move is to stick with Pinkins. Not only that but Pinkins will be coming in with a year of starting experience already under his belt. Experienced, returning senior SEC quarterbacks are rare commodities and the Holtz's have one this season. It is a no brainer.
Dondrial Pinkins will not disappoint. He is entering his senior season with a new perspective and a ton of real life experience. Expect him to show improvement by leaps and bounds. One thing all fans should hope for is that his receivers catch the ball this season. Well over 50 drops last season, 24 in the first three games alone, did not do anything to help Pinkins' confidence in himself or his receivers. That is something, that if corrected, may benefit the SC offense in the 2004 season more than anything else.
What about Blake Mitchell? He'll get his snaps and he will see plenty of playing time. But do not expect the coaches to throw him to the wolves just for the benefit of the fans. Had they used him some last season it may be a different story. But as it is this will be his first live action and it is best to take it slow and easy.
Yet that's not the end of it. We hear you. As you have been reading this you have been asking us, "What about Syvelle Newton?"
Here is your answer.
Skip Holtz is not sure yet, about Syvelle, and no one can answer for him. Guessing ... the big question is why use Syvelle as a quarterback when he is such a potential weapon as a wide receiver? And that question makes sense. Why place Syvelle behind center and ask him to be the savior when in fact his skills and talents best serve the team as a wide receiver? The question answers itself. But be forewarned that Newton is the wild card. He is going to get his chance during spring drills and we know better than to discount his abilities and the excitement he brings to the game. He is one of those players that looks good even when doing bad things from time to time. So we tell you this as plainly as possible ... if Syvelle excites Lou during the spring, then Syvelle could easily make a move up the depth chart and throw the whole plan into a tizzy. Imagine what might happen if Syvelle comes out of nowhere and unseats Mitchell at number two! Not to mention the potential for Syvelle to pressure a fifth year senior Pinkins. If it happens then something is wrong - but only Syvelle could turn that into a right. Does that make any sense to you at all? These upcoming spring drills are going to be very telling indeed.
Another question? What about Mike Rathe?
Another answer. Mike Rathe is definitely in the hunt but behind the eightball and a longshot at best. Rathe was much maligned last season for a couple of bonehead plays. He tries to force things, or make things happen ... depends on which way you choose to look at it. Either way he has ability and he has the intensity and fire you like to see in a quarterback. He also reads defenses very well and he has a strong enough arm and evasive enough running skills to be in the mix. And in the mix he shall be this season when least expected - which is going to be a surprise to most Gamecock fans who had written him off after his disappearance last season. But take our word for it ... Rathe will be given a shot out of the blue at some time this season and do not be surprised to see him make a move.
So our final conclusion is this. Dondrial Pinkins will be the starter this season and he will be much improved and productive. Blake Mitchell will get as much playing time as game scores and opponents allow IF, and this is a big IF, Lou does not go entirely with a veer/option type system. Mike Rathe will be waiting his turn and he will contribute in some way this coming season either on the pratice field or when least expected in a big game ala Erik Kimrey. And finally, Syvelle Newton will get his snaps in the spring and summer and Lou will make it sound like he is a future All-American QB ... but in the end he will be an All-American wide receiver ... we think. Newton makes this all a really big crap shoot - you do understand what we are writing here correct? Newton could change things with a big spring and if he does all bets are off.
One final note. If Rathe competes and contributes this season, a hardship redshirt-medical year will be applied for and granted. This would in turn allow Rathe to return next season, and then you have a redshirted senior a true sophomore (Newton) and the redshirted sophomore in Mitchell competing for the job after Pinkins graduates. It is a good plan for the future but for now spring awaits and there is much yet to be decided. If it ends in the spring - Pinkins, Newton, Rathe, Mitchell then hold onto your hats boys and girls, we will all be in for a ride unlike we have seen in quite some time. Especially if either Newton or Mitchell wins the heart of Lou.
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