Gamecocks Break Out The Pads

On Friday afternoon, the Gamecocks broke out the pads for the first time this spring, giving the players a chance to push each other around a little bit as they prepared for a Saturday morning scrimmage.

"We just bumped around a little bit," said Coach Steve Spurrier. "It wasn't real live, but most of the guys did okay, nothing spectacular happened." As Spurrier indicated following practice on Thursday, once the players donned pads, the star players took a back seat so that the younger players could get the bulk of practice. This led to the unheralded Tommy Beecher to Nick Prochak connection taking center stage.

Only three days in, Beecher found himself at the center of unexpected intrigue when the redshirt sophomore missed the first two practices because of an accounting class that was only offered on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. Spurrier even joked that he might rearrange the practice schedule so he could finally see what Beecher could do. When he finally got out there, Beecher put in a full day, putting in significant reps at quarterback, holder on field goals, and long snapper on punts.

"Beecher was moving around, throwing a little bit," Spurrier said, pleased with his first look at the quarterback. After a slow start, Beecher thought he redeemed himself well. "It was a little shaky at the beginning there," said the redshirt sophomore quarterback. "I got more confident as the day went along. There's always room for improvement, so I'm just looking forward to getting better out here."

Beecher knows that the more he can do for the team, the better chance he has of getting on the field. "I want to help the team out any way that I can," he said. Toward that end, he has been the holder on field goals and, more surprisingly, the backup long snapper on punts. Beecher said that he was the backup long snapper in high school, and had two uncles who long snapped in college. In addition to being multi-talented, Beecher has another plan to help him get on the field: he cut his hair. Though he never had locks like fellow quarterback Stephen Garcia, Beecher now sports a close cropped look. "I figure I've got a better chance of playing with short hair like Coach Spurrier," he explained. "He doesn't like the long hair."

Spurrier plans to get an extended look at Beecher and Chris Smelley, Beecher's competition for the backup spot to Blake Mitchell, during the Saturday scrimmage. "He and Smelley will play a lot in the scrimmage tomorrow. We're not worried about [settling on a backup] right now. We're just worried about getting those guys a lot of action, and we'll go from there."

On the receiving end of a number of passes Friday night was redshirt freshman tight end, Nick Prochak. A high school quarterback, Prochak spent last year at strong safety, but has lined up at tight end this spring. Listed at 6'3" and 226 lbs, he does not have ideal size for a tight end, but Spurrier likes his potential nonetheless. "I tell you what, he can run and he can catch the ball well," Spurrier said. "He's got a chance to be a pass receiving tight end. He might have been the star of today's practice." The big question for Prochak will be whether he can block well enough. Spurrier acknowledged the concern, but said, "He's light, but he tries and knows how to do it. He's better than some of our blocking last year."


- After talking about Prochak's potential, Spurrier added that he also expects big things from incoming freshman Weslye Saunders. "If Weslye comes in in shape and ready to play, he's got super hands and can catch it too."

- For the first time in his tenure, Spurrier is bragging about the Gamecocks' depth. He was almost giddy when he said, "We've got a lot of players. We'll have a spring game with backups on both teams.

- One position that is particularly deep is center. "We've got a lot of centers," said Spurrier. "Blake told me he's getting the ball from all of them, even the lefties." Ryan Broadhead, Jeremy Burgess, Web Brown, and Garrett Anderson have all practiced at center. Anderson is left handed, which is sometimes thought to make for a more difficult exchange with the quarterback.

- Spurrier likes having the fans attend practices, but he did have one complaint. "I wish they wouldn't smoke over there in the back corner," he said, referring the area of the practice fields where he usually works with the quarterbacks. "We were downwind today, that's why we moved up here. We got out of the draft of the smoke. Sometimes you've got to move the practice around."

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