For those that did not attend yesterday, please do during the upcoming season. We've also decided to have a Gamecock Nation camp out - or as someone put it yesterday, "A Gamecock NaTION VacaTION." I am looking forward to that and everyone is invited. A chance to fellowship over the summer with like-minded fans that know how to party - that is one I will not miss and when the time comes I hope you will think of attending as well. More details at a later date.
Okay, now on to the scrimmage.
If you were there you saw for yourself, Syvelle Newton made his mark. I said afterwards on the post game show that, "Today, Syvelle was forced to success." Later Lou Holtz called it, "Spoon feeding Syvelle for success." Either way, it was clear yesterday that Lou and Skip have plans for Syvelle at quarterback. Quite frankly this surprises me and I'll suggest why. Because look at it this way. Unless there are plans for Syvelle to unseat the senior Dondrial Pinkins early in the season as the starter, then Syvelle's talents are going to be wasted on the bench. With that understood and accepted by some, cheered by others, we have to imagine Syvelle being a double-duty threat early this coming season. In other words, he almost has to see some time at wide receiver as well as quarterback until the time comes for him to completely take over at quarterback. Otherwise, he spends too much time on the bench looking rather than learning. Do you see what I mean? If Syvelle is the heir apparent all of the sudden, to replace Pinkins at some point in the season, then he needs as much real game experience early as can be afforded. There is no time to waste. You do not want to enter the rugged second half of the season next year with a first year quarterback with no starting experience.
Personally, I and others had not seen the true potential of Syvelle in practices leading up to the Spring Game. Oh I am sure I know of others who claimed he was number two all along, and in retrospect they guessed right. But most who were regular observers did not see it that way heading into the final scrimmage/game. As a matter of fact when asked, Lou said, "He has always showed the potential, but what Syvelle showed me today is that he is a better game player ..." I could not agree more.
Syvelle had a couple of miscues out there on Saturday - most notably the two interceptions. I remarked to Phil Kornblut and our radio listeners after the game that if Dondrial had thrown those same two interceptions in key situations he would have been roundly booed. Fans would have been screaming, HERE WE GO AGAIN! But it is obviously different in the minds of most fans and I think I know why.
Newton has charm - he has 'The Quam' as Cuba Gooding, Jr., put it in Jerry McGuire. It's his, he has achieved it within himself. When he is on the field he is exciting to watch and he makes the fans and his fellow teammates believe ... believe in his ability to make something good happen. It doesn't always happen that way, but the excitement overrules the risk. In my humble opinion, unless Syvelle were to experience very early success with a high degree in nature, Newton's risk factor would wear thin quickly with the fans - especially those that are fickle. Those two interceptions thrown yesterday would have been game losers in a real-time situation against a good team. Momentum breakers for a fragile Gamecock offense. But, and this is a big BUT, for now he is being touted as a potential savior. A guy that can make things happen. The old rule applies, be careful what you wish for ... you may just get it. That's not to say Syvelle Newton cannot get the job done because obviously he can. Just remember that a great deal of Newton's success yesterday was against walk-ons and scrubs. SEC defenses are not nearly so forgiving or generous. Let's wait and see how the summer develops before labeling Newton the Gamecock quarterback for the 2004 season. He is only a sophomore and he has yet to start a game in the SEC.
It is always a crap shoot to try and take away anything concrete from a Spring Football Game. Things rarely stay the same by the time summer rolls around. Dondrial Pinkins did not look as sharp as he has in recent practices yesterday. Even Lou said it afterwards.
"He (Dondrial) was not as sharp as he has been today," Lou told the press immediately following the scrimmage. "I don't know why, but I intend to find out. I am going to ask him what was on his mind when I leave here."
I think I may know.
Dondrial Pinkins feels too much pressure in front of the fans. He hears footsteps. He knows he is being combed with a fine tooth instrument and the fans are asking a lot of him. Enter the life of a major college quarterback. Pinkins needs to get over it. He tries too hard when people are watching. If he fails to get over the hump of allowing the fans to dictate his performance, then Syvelle will pass him by - if he hasn't already. There are practice players and then there are game players. Some do both well, others do not. Right now Dondrial has to learn to loosen up and play his game and forget about what's in the stands judging him. Otherwise he is done as a quarterback and that will be a shame. He is loaded with the tools. He has the knowledge of the game ... but he has to learn to control what's between his ears. Yesterday he once again missed some reads. He threw deep for incompletions when there were open receivers short. He was looking for the home run ball and the cheers, rather than taking the high-percentage route and aiming for the first down. Fifth year seniors are not supposed to do that - and it is the one thing that will cost Dondrial his senior season chance if he fails to overcome it - he's got to keep his head in the game and out of the stands.
Blake Mitchell still needs work. He is going to be a good quarterback - but he still needs work. As you finally saw yesterday, what I have been saying all along, he has the weakest arms of all four quarterbacks that took to the field yesterday. Notice I said arms, as in plural, because desperately needs to work on his overall body strength. That's not a knock, his throwing arm is plenty strong enough, it's just the weakest of the four. He is still a year or two away based upon this entire Spring's performance. And here is something to think about. Suppose Newton does establish himself as the clear # 2? Syvelle is one class ahead, as a true sophomore, of a redshirt freshman Mitchell. Will Mitchell, or his father, accept being relegated to that position on the depth chart? THAT is going to be a question not answered until well into he 2004 campaign.
If I am Michael Rathe, I am looking for a place to transfer, to a D-IAA school, if I want to keep playing football. It is clear that Michael Rathe is not going to get a fair chance at South Carolina IMHO. I do not want to speculate why - the coaches must have a good reason. He was ruined last season I suppose, forever tagged as the guy that takes too many chances and presses/forces things rather than letting things happen. I'm not sure I agree. He throws the best ball. He has a good command of the offense, but what he is lacking right now is the confidence of the coaching staff and without that he does not stand a chance. If the coaches were to take him under their wings and show him a little love I truly believe the guy could be good - he would perform and contribute. But Rathe is not going to be given a chance that is obvious. He took the fewest snaps yesterday and even then it was behind the scrubs for the most part. I would either transfer or quit football altogether and get on with my life. He's a tough kid and he is trying hard to hang around and get his chance ... but it appears to me that chance may never come. I cannot help but believe that something is being wasted by not giving Rathe more of a chance. It just baffles me.
The starting offensive line is going to be very good. Gamecock fans must cross their fingers and hope they get through the coming season injury free on the offensive line. It is going to take time to develop any serious depth and until that time comes Coach Shankweiler is going to depend on two or three guys to spell the starters. Woodly Telfort and Chris White are capable. Having to move Fran Person to center is telling. William Brown is capable but lacks experience. The newcomers are going to be just that ... new. But the starting five may be as good as any in the conference if not the country.
You had to like what you saw out of David Laggis and Andy Boyd yesterday. Brian Brownlee showed-up too and he will be a fine senior tight end. And Robert Pavlovic is on the way. Expect to see a lot more of what you saw yesterday. The tight ends, as we have been saying all Spring, are going to be integral parts of this coming season's offense.
The defensive line is going to be very good as you saw yesterday. The starting four should be in the top three or four of the conference as a group. George Gause is poised to have a standout senior season. Moe Thompson ... is Moe. His motor is always running. He is just a pure football player. Darrell Shropshire and Freddy Saint Preux will anchor the inside and they are a very good combo who feeds off of one another. They are close friends. There were solid signs of serious depth potential on the defensive line as well. Stanley Doughty showed signs of big things to come. Charles Silas began to get into the rhythm of things from time to time. Chris Tucker made a few nice plays. Jason Capers looked good at defensive end and so did James Scott. Preston Thorne and Eric Stroman will return in time for summer and they will add a lot to this group along with the new guys like Marque Hall, Matt Raysor and K.T. Mainord.
At linebacker you had to feel good about the starters Marcus Lawrence, Lance Laury and Ricardo Hurley. Their backups DeAdrian Coley, Ryan Brown, Curtis Rice and Orus Lambert performed well for what they were asked to do. I noticed Seth Edwards playing an OLB roll almost as a defensive end. He will definitely play this coming season. Alonzo Middleton may contribute as a true freshman, he is that kind of player. Not fast or flashy, just a football player. Brandon Samuels will get his chance in the middle as well. I'm not completely sure how to classify Rodriguez Wilson or Cory Peoples other than to say they are Spurs ... and they look good doing it.
The real surprise yesterday was in the Secondary. Coach Ron Cooper has worked wonders already back there. Jonathan Joseph and Fred Bennett both have the potential to be very good. Joseph runs stride for stride with Troy Williamson and that is saying something. Jonathan, as we have been saying, has big time potential. And Bennett has adjusted to his new home with colors. Taqiy Muhammad and Tyler Erving both appeared to be capable backups. Jermaine Harris and Jamacia Jackson performed to standards yesterday - but the real surprise was Ko Simpson. He is a hitting machine. Coach Cooper has worked wonders with this secondary to the point where it is no longer a worry to me personally, they are in capable hands and they have great potential. And oh yes, I cannot forget Cody Wells. He will blossom over the summer and will contribute in the coming season. He is still learning but he definitely has to remind you of a bigger faster Ryan Brewer.
I thought Cory Boyd was the best of the running backs yesterday. He has all the right moves. The ability to stick it up hard on the inside. He has good evasiveness and elusiveness ... very decent speed. Good hands. Runs hard. Demetris Summers still has to learn to be tougher on the inside, but if he gets a little gap he sure has the ability to make tacklers miss. Gonzie Gray may be one of those practice players I wrote of earlier. He has looked good all spring. Now the question is, will he be given the chance to contribute once the real battles begin. His added weight has helped him be more physical and that is going to play into his favor IMHO. And Daccus Turman is as steady as ever. He has better moves than most give him credit for having, but his forte if you will, is pounding the ball inside.
Brandon Schweitzer and Jamie Peters are going to be a fine pair of fullbacks. They will get the job done and are just what the doctor ordered. Adding Antonio Lamar will make the Gamecock backfield one of the most dangerous and deep in the SEC next season.
The Gamecocks are weak at wide receiver. I know other places are reporting the USC receiving corp to be one of the strong points of the team. I don't see it and neither do many in-the-know who have watched them practice. They did nothing to settle my concerns yesterday. I said this on the post game show and I'll say it again. The South Carolina wide receivers almost appear incapable of getting separation from defensive backs. Don't ask why because that is the 64k question. With the exception of Noah Whiteside and possibly Michael Flint, the rest seem to be just going through the motions. Matthew Thomas and Troy Williamson are going to have to learn two things. (1) Keep running ... run under the dang football! (2) There is more to being a big time SEC wide receiver than running deep routes looking for the home run ball all the time. These guys have got to learn to fight-off defenders and get themselves open. Others around the league do it. The Good Lord along with every Gamecock fan knows that Clemson receivers know how to do it. Sooner or later the Gamecock wide receivers need to learn how to do it and time is running out. Troy Williamson and Matthew Thomas have been disappointing. Both are speed burners but neither uses it to their advantage. And as you saw yesterday, when the defensive backs are as fast as they are, they both become very average receivers standing around waiting on the big play to fall into their hands. There is a lot of work to be done at wide receiver before South Carolina travels to Vanderbilt. Kris Clark is a capable possession receiver. D'Von Hill is too young to expect a lot from him and he does not have great speed. David Smith could be categorized in the same boat. Travis Lee has shown flashes of brilliance and he may come into his own this summer. The jury is still out on Derrick Harper ... will he even return? He was not on the field yesterday. Sidney Rice is coming, but I am telling you that while he is a great leaper and has above average hands - he is not speedster. That leaves ... Syvelle Newton. One guy who could really contribute at wide receiver next season. But yesterday Lou said, "I told Syvelle that he is a quarterback and is going to remain a quarterback - that's all I want him to be." Reference back to the first part of this report ... is it worth benching Syvelle for the first part of the season as a back-up quarterback to a fifth year senior? Especially when Syvelle's services are obviously needed at wide receiver? It is a slippery slope the Gamecock coaches will walk in that regard ... and Lou's head is very hard. Fans will wonder. If Syvelle spends too much time on the bench watching Dondrial, all the while with the Gamecocks in need of one more big play wide receiver ... the questions will be asked. Impatience will grow one way or the other. It's a very very tricky situation.
South Carolina is still looking for a kicker. Field goals and extra points are game makers and breakers. You can count on Coach Paul Lounseberry to have that situation well in hand by the time the season starts. And Josh Brown is a big time punter. As a former quarterback who regularly works his arm by throwing the ball around on the sidelines and during practice, he also brings the added ability to throw the football from the deep position. And Noah appeared to be tagged as both the punt return specialist and the kickoff return specialist? Expect to see more in the way of Matthew Thomas and Cody Wells back there - there is just no way Noah will be able to do both and play as many snaps as a wide receiver as they are going to expect him to play.
All in all the Spring Game yesterday really didn't tell us much. It gave some of the new guys a chance to play in front of a crowd. Lou and Skip went very vanilla on offense. They may have shown 20% of their package at best. The same could be said for Rick Minter's defense. They were cuffed as far as what they were allowed to do in the scrimmage. But the talent is there. And the best thing about Spring? There were no significant injuries to speak of ... the first Spring session we can say that about since Lou arrived ... or for the past ten or more years for that matter. Those with major injuries before Spring Drills began were allowed to regroup and should be back to 100% by summer.
The key to success for the Gamecocks in the coming season will be their ability to continue to establish good chemistry. This team has that right now - whether they will be able to maintain it once they hit the hurdles and are forced to overcome adversity is another matter altogether. No one will know until the SEC battles begin - but I know they have set their goals high and they are going to continue to be pushed to play up to their ability by this overhauled coaching staff.
I have learned through my sources out in the midwest that Dave Odom has won his battle to overturn the 5/8 basketball scholarship rule. It looks like the Board will meet this week and will either rule in favor of Coach Odom's appeal to be granted another scholarship for the coming season - or they will overturn the rule altogether, nationwide. That's key because after this past season's success Coach Odom is sitting on a couple of potential big men that could really come in and contribute to his program in coming seasons. I have also learned that the contract negotiations have gone well and that Coach Odom will be around for many more seasons to come. We should expect an official announcement in coming days ... soon. It's just a matter of dotting the Is and crossing the Ts and signing on the dotted line.