2006 Position Preview: Wide Receivers

No conversation about the South Carolina offense can begin without mention of star wide receiver, Sidney Rice. The high-flying phenom broke onto the scene as a redshirt freshman in 2005 on his way to recording 70 receptions for 1,143 yards and 13 touchdowns.

Rice raced his way to the top of the Carolina record books by setting single season highs for both receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. He set another school record by recording a touchdown reception in eight consecutive games.

As expected, Rice's sensational freshman campaign warranted numerous honors, including being named 1st Team All-SEC and being recognized with multiple Freshman All-American honors. What will Rice do for an encore in 2006?

"I haven't set my goals for this year yet, but I have confidence in my abilities, and I'm going to just go out there and try to do my very best to help this team win."

Rice's abilities are no longer a secret, and opposing defenses will undoubtedly devise their game plans around stopping him. He is sure to see plenty of double coverage this season, so it will be essential for other receivers to make the opposition pay. When asked about this in the spring, Rice shrugged it off and implied that opposing defenses will simply have to pick their poison.

"If they double me, we've got some real talented wide receivers that will make them pay. We all have confidence in one another that each of us can make the plays we need to help us win."

One such wide receiver who is primed for a breakout year is sophomore Kenny McKinley. The 5'11, 185 pound speedster made the successful transition from high school quarterback to wide receiver as a true freshman last season, and he went on to total 25 catches for 291 yards and 1 touchdown in 2005. McKinley had his breakout performance on the road against Tennessee last season when he recorded 5 catches for 54 yards, including a couple of clutch third down conversions. The following week, McKinley caught his only touchdown pass of the season on a 42 yard strike from Blake Mitchell. That touchdown proved to be the difference in the game, as Carolina went on to win 14-10.

McKinley had a very good spring, and he began to establish himself as the second best receiver on the team. The highlight of the spring for McKinley came in a scrimmage on April 5, when he caught six passes for 96 yards and 1 touchdown, while Sidney Rice watched from the sideline with a broken left thumb.

Another offensive weapon the Gamecocks are hoping will be available this season is the versatile Syvelle Newton. The Marlboro County (SC) native has accumulated 2,188 total yards and 17 touchdowns while playing at a combination of wide receiver, running back, and quarterback during his first three seasons at Carolina. Unfortunately, Newton is still recovering from a torn achilles that he suffered on a touchdown run in the victory against Vanderbilt. However, he is progressing well from the injury, and he is currently on track to play this year.

"I'm looking forward to being back 100% and getting out there to help the team any way I can. I'm going to be ready for the season opener. I've just been rehabbing all summer and going to the summer workouts."

With this being Newton's senior season at Carolina, he is looking to take more of an active, leadership role on the team this year.

"I'm trying to take a leadership role. This is my senior year. Hopefully a lot of guys look up to me. We've just got to find some leaders on the team, and I'm trying to step up to that position."

Noah Whiteside is another senior who is looking to finish his career on a solid note. The 5'10, 180 pound receiver was named the Offensive Player of the Spring in 2005, but after breaking his right ankle in the Garnet and Black game, he never fully recovered for the 2005 season. Whiteside totaled 7 receptions for 131 yards and 1 touchdown last season, but it was obvious that he was never back to full strength. However, according to Coach Spurrier, Whiteside was back to his old form when the spring of 2006 came around.

"Noah was running around like he did last year (before his injury). He couldn't run like that in practice last season. He's back to his form before the injury.

Whiteside capped off a solid spring by recording 4 catches for 68 yards and 1 touchdown in the annual Garnet and Black game, and he is hoping that success will translate into the fall now that he is healthy.

"I feel like my leg is back to 100 percent. I can do things I want to do and move how I want to. I can catch the ball and make plays."

After struggling at linebacker for most of last season, Mike West made a successful transition to receiver this spring. At 6'0, 215 pounds, West brings a physical presence to the wide receiver rotation. However, don't let that fool you. West is still one of the fastest players on the team, and he has been consistently timed running a sub 4.4 forty yard dash. It only took a couple of days in spring practice before Coach Spurrier realized that West could be a legitimate weapon at receiver.

"He (West) gives us sort of a big, thick guy who can go in there and block the safety. He's not bad catching the ball. He has a chance there, and it may be a position he can excel in. I know Steve (Spurrier) Jr's excited about coaching him, so we'll see where it winds up.

Redshirt freshman OJ Murdock was one of the jewels of the 2005 recruiting class, and he was billed as the fastest receiver in the state of Florida. However, the transition to the college level hasn't been as smooth as expected for Murdock. He is still working on becoming a more complete receiver, but as he displayed in the Garnet and Black spring game, he does have potential. Murdock closed out an up-and-down spring by catching two passes for 56 yards, including a 42 yard touchdown strike. If Murdock can show the dedication and work ethic that is necessary to be successful at this level, then he can become a very good receiver at Carolina.

Quite possibly the biggest surprise of the Garnet and Black game was the play of redshirt freshman Freddie Brown. The 6'3, 200 pound receiver posted a breakout performance, as he totaled 4 receptions for 75 yards and 2 touchdowns. Coach Spurrier was even surprised by Brown's performance in the spring game.

"Freddie played better than we thought. He looked quick and beat Fred Bennett on the first touchdown… Freddie did some really good things today."

One newcomer who may challenge for playing time this season is Anderson (SC) native, Moe Brown. The 6'0, 180 pound receiver got a head start on the rest of the incoming freshmen and joined the team's voluntary workouts earlier this summer. That could pay dividends once fall camp starts, and with continued progress, Brown will likely earn playing time this season.

Projected Starters: Sidney Rice, Kenny McKinley, Syvelle Newton

Projected Reserves: Noah Whiteside, Mike West, OJ Murdock, Freddie Brown, Moe Brown

This has been the third piece in a continuing, eight part series of position previews.

Stay tuned to GamecockAnthem.com for continued, comprehensive coverage of Carolina football.

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