Munnerlyn Is Cleared, Rice Nearing Full Speed

With only a few practices remaining before the season opener against Mississippi State, the Gamecocks practiced in shells Monday afternoon. Coach Spurrier spoke after practice about putting the finishing touches on the preparations for Thursday evening's showdown against the Bulldogs.

The Gamecocks received some good news on the injury front on Monday. After missing time with an ankle injury, Thomas Coleman returned to the field and worked full speed. "He was running around pretty well today," Spurrier said. Sidney Rice also is recovering nicely from a shoulder injury. According to Spurrier, "He's practicing full go."

Not all the injury news was good, however. Moe Brown wore a garnet jersey for practice, but Spurrier has some bad news. "Moe is still gimpy. I don't know if he'll be able to play." Another wide receiver, Mike West, is also out. "Mike West is lame with his hamstring. I don't know how he'll be Thursday night." With Brown and West doubtful, redshirt freshmen OJ Murdock and Freddie Brown should see more balls thrown their way. Spurrier said the pair is "definitely ready.

The best news of the day concerned the long strange saga of Captain Munnerlyn, the freshman cornerback who has turned heads throughout fall camp, and is currently listed at second team on the depth chart. Munnerlyn finally received academic clearance from the NCAA Clearinghouse to practice and play, and the news did not come a moment too soon, according to Spurrier. "He will play a lot of defensive corner. He'll be in there a lot; he's ready to play. We thought he was a good player, but we think all [freshmen] are good players until they come out here and start playing and show us what they can do. He showed us he can play." Munnerlyn leads a quartet of talented freshmen that are expected to play a big part in this year's defense. Spurrier counted off the names of three other standout defenders, "Eric Norwood has been impressive. Rodney Paulk. Emmanuel Cook. Those four on defense will play a lot. I don't know if they will start, but they will play a lot this year barring injury."

While most Gamecock fans have been watching Munnerlyn's situation, another freshman has become involved in a curious scenario. After saying that quarterback Chris Smelley would get in the game against Mississippi State, Spurrier said on Saturday that the talented freshman would only play against the Bulldogs if starter Blake Mitchell were injured. Then, on Sunday, Spurrier said Smelley would see some playing time. Monday, Spurrier reversed himself again, saying, "It would almost take a serious injury for him to come out of the game. He's our quarterback, there's no question about that." While we may not know the fate of Smelley, one thing is certain, the Head Ball Coach is putting his team in Blake Mitchell's hands. "He's much improved. Blake is our guy all the way. Hopefully he stays focused and we can protect him well. If we can do that, I think we can get some guys open if we can pass block."

The Gamecocks are in the somewhat unique position of opening their season with two conference opponents. Starting 0-2 could be a major shot to Carolina's chances of making noise in the SEC East, while starting 2-0 would be a tremendous jump-start. Spurrier, though, is not looking that far ahead. "[The first two games] are very important because they are conference games. Mississippi State on the Western side and of course Georgia is on our side. We're just trying to play them all one at a time. We'll try to have fun and play the best we can in each of them. All that other stuff will take care of itself. We finished second in the east last year. Every team's got to have hope that they can challenge in the conference. You always have dreams of winning your division, regardless of how small the odds are. We'll be ready to play as well as we can Thursday night."

Many players will be thrown into the fire on Thursday. Many will be experiencing their first college football game on the road against a conference foe and in front of a national television audience. On top of that, the players will be trying to perform in front of a hostile crowd of some 55,000, a far cry from where they were last year. "The Brinkley brothers [Casper and Jasper], last year they were playing in front of 50 people. They didn't have any big crowds. Those guys are ready to go. As much as we've all done it, and done it together, we should be fairly ready. We've got the signals ready. Hopefully they wont steal our signals too much. We're ready to go.

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