2006 Position Preview: Offensive Line

By all accounts, the Gamecock offense will field a wealth of quality skill players this season, but the fate of the Cock N' Fire may very well rest in the hands of the offensive line. After struggling with inconsistency for much of the 2005 campaign, the offensive line showed signs of progress towards the end of last season.

Despite the loss of three key contributors from the 2005 unit, this year's line has the potential to be better than what Gamecock fans became accustomed to seeing a year ago. Chris White, who claims twenty-eight career starts, returns as the undisputed leader and anchor of the line in 2006, and he will be joined by four fellow linemen, in Thomas Coleman, Jamon Meredith, Web Brown, and James Thompson, who started at least three games last season.

The offensive line had an encouraging spring camp, but Coach Spurrier, who does not hand out compliments without merit, was especially pleased with the work that the linemen put in during the summer workouts. Coach Spurrier believes their hard work and dedication will pay dividends this fall, as he stated recently at his annual media golf outing press conference.

"I think the offensive line will play better than the group last year. They've worked harder in the off-season. They've been close to 100 percent from what our strength coach tells us, and as a group, they've probably been the best on the team."

Fifth year senior Thomas Coleman started four games as a walk-on lineman a year ago, and he will be rewarded for his contributions with a scholarship this fall. The Johnston (SC) native is looking to build on last season's success with an even better 2006 campaign, and after an excellent off-season, Coleman is expected to be a fixture on the interior of the line. Coleman was named the "Steve Sisk Outstanding Blocker" during the spring, but equally as impressive were Coleman's recent accomplishments in the weight room. The 6'3, 320 pound lineman was recognized at the Steve Spurrier Ladies Clinic this past weekend as being the strongest player on the team after bench pressing an astounding 15 reps at 315 pounds.

Quite possibly the biggest surprise of the spring was the play of redshirt sophomore, Gurminder Thind. The 6'4, 290 pound Thind, who is a native of Mississauga, came into his own during the spring and displayed the athleticism and tenacity necessary to man the all important left tackle position. He quickly earned the reputation as being one of the best pass blockers on the team, and his progress did not go unnoticed, as he was named the "Most Improved Lineman" at the conclusion of the spring.

The right tackle spot will be manned by Jamon Meredith, who started the final three contests of the 2005 season. Meredith, at 6'4, 290 pounds, provides an extremely athletic presence along the offensive line, and after a successful 2005 season, expectations are high for him heading into this year. Meredith also happens to be one of the most intelligent players on the team, and he was recognized with the "Andrew Sorenson Scholar Athlete Award For Football" during the spring.

William "Web" Brown took part in the second half of spring camp after suffering from an injury plagued sophomore season, and his return brought a welcome addition to an offensive line that lacks quality depth. Brown, who started the first four games of 2005 before injuring his back in pre-game warm-ups against Auburn, is listed as a starter in the pre-season depth chart, and the coaching staff loves his aggressive style of play. The 6'4, 290 pound Boonville (NC) native is a versatile player, and he could potentially contribute at all three interior line spots.

Brown will face a stiff challenge from James Thompson in fall camp to maintain his starting spot. Thompson, who finished the spring listed on the first team depth chart, is arguably one of the most talented linemen on the team, but he had yet to put it all together in his first two years on campus. That appears to be changing, as Coach Spurrier recently made a simple but meaningful proclamation regarding the 6'3, 320 pound Thompson.

"Thompson is ready to become a ballplayer now."

The Gamecocks have questionable depth beyond the top six linemen, but if redshirt sophomores Jeremy Burgess and Justin Sorenson could provide quality relief minutes this fall, that would provide the line a much needed shot in the arm.

Steve Spurrier and staff addressed a dire need in this past recruiting class by signing eight offensive linemen. Unfortunately, JUCO transfer Clarence Bailey never made the necessary grades to get into school, and the Gamecocks will likely be forced to rely on a few of the incoming freshmen to provide depth this fall.

The most likely candidates to avoid a redshirt this season are Kevin Young and Hutch Eckerson. Young is a 6'5, 340 pound massive offensive guard, while Eckerson is a 6'6, 290 pound offensive tackle. A couple more of the incoming linemen may be forced into action, including Heath Batchelor and Garrett Anderson as likely candidates.

Seaver Brown and Pierre Andrews are likely to redshirt this year, but they will be counted on to play an important role in the coming years. Ryan Broadhead, another lineman signed in the 2006 class, has elected to grayshirt this season.

Overall, the Gamecocks have reason to be optimistic about the top six linemen in the rotation, but depth is a serious concern. If the men in the trenches can stay relatively healthy throughout the course of the year, then the South Carolina offense could have a big year in 2006.

Projected Starters: Gurminder Thind, Thomas Coleman, Chris White, Web Brown, Jamon Meredith

Top Reserves: James Thompson, Jeremy Burgess, Justin Sorenson, Kevin Young, Hutch Eckerson, Heath Batchelor

Projected Redshirts: Garrett Anderson, Seaver Brown, Pierre Andrews

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

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

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