Spring Recap: Veteran Backfield Leads Offense
Fifth year senior quarterback Blake Mitchell has had an up and down career at South Carolina, but now heading into his third year under Steve Spurrier, the LaGrange, GA native will enter into the 2007 season with high expectations. While Mitchell struggled with consistency during the spring and had what can best be described as an awful performance during the Garnet and Black Game, Spurrier is optimistic that his signal-caller will have a strong senior campaign as long as he receives adequate protection from the offensive line. Mitchell's biggest struggles during the spring stemmed from lack of time in the pocket and an unfamiliarity with his receivers after the loss of Sidney Rice. However, both of those areas can be addressed and hopefully improved with practice and repetition in fall camp. Off the field, Mitchell has been dedicated in the weight room, adding muscle to his once slender frame, and as you would expect from any fifth year senior, he has gained a much stronger grasp of the Gamecock offense during the offseason. If Mitchell can perform at a high level and make quick, smart decisions in the pocket during the fall, his presence can help bring along USC's young receivers in the passing game and complement what is expected to be a strong rushing attack.
Redshirt freshman Chris Smelley and sophomore Tommy Beecher battled throughout the spring for the back up quarterback duties behind Mitchell, and that competition will likely carry into the fall. Much like Mitchell, both Smelley and Beecher struggled with consistency at times during the spring, but they each showed flashes of potential as well. Smelley, who saw action in USC's first two games of the 2006 season before suffering a heel injury that resulted in a medical redshirt, was given his opportunity to shine in the Garnet and Black Game, as Beecher sat out the spring finale with a sprained shoulder. Smelley took advantage of that opportunity, and while he did not put up Heisman-like numbers in the spring game, he did have a strong first half performance, as he outshined Mitchell head-to-head and led the Black to a 14-7 win over the Garnet.
Caption: Chris Smelley works under center during the Garnet and Black Game.
Newcomer Stephen Garcia, who was suspended for the spring after two run ins with the law, will jump into the quarterback competition when the fall arrives. The highly touted Tampa, FL product, while still very raw, has a strong arm, good mobility, and a confident swagger, but after missing the spring, Garcia has a lot of work to do in order to avoid a redshirt year in 2007.
The heart and soul of the 2007 Gamecock offense is hard nosed, senior running back Cory Boyd, who led USC in rushing with 823 yards and 8 touchdowns last season. The Orange, NJ native prides himself in breaking tackles and making yards after contact, and despite running behind an offensive line that is still very much a work in progress, Boyd had a superb spring, which he capped off with a 2 touchdown performance in the first quarter of the Garnet and Black Game. The versatile Boyd was also USC's third leading receiver last season, as he totaled 35 catches for 406 yards and 2 scores, and his ability to be a receiving threat out of the backfield will make life much easier for Mitchell and company on passing downs this fall. Boyd is the clear leader of this offense both on and off the field, and he appears primed for an all conference type of season in 2007.
Caption: Cory Boyd finds a seam during the Garnet and Black Game.
Rising junior Mike Davis combined with Boyd to form a strong one-two punch out of the Gamecock backfield down the stretch of the 2006 season, but the Columbia, SC native was forced to sit out the entire spring while recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery. Still, Davis has clearly added muscle to his upper body during the offseason, and he was seen on the sidelines encouraging his teammates and tossing the football around for much of the spring. Davis, who has rushed for 1,140 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first two seasons with the Gamecocks, is a leader in the weight room, and he will join with Boyd to form one of the top backfield tandems in the SEC this season.
Shifty junior Bobby Wallace received plenty of reps in Davis' absence during the spring, and after adding over ten pounds of muscle to his frame in the last year, the elusive Wallace will look to become a bigger factor in the Gamecock offense this season. Wallace, who had 10 carries for 61 yards in the Garnet and Black Game, is a playmaker with the ball in his hands, and the USC coaches are looking for ways to get him more touches in the fall. The 5'7", 196 pound Wallace provides a nice change of pace option out of the backfield, and he could also see time as a slot receiver. He also received reps as a punt return man during the spring.
Redshirt sophomore Taylor Rank had his moments during the spring as well, but he will have a tough time holding off talented newcomers like Brian Maddox and Eric Baker when they arrive in the summer.
Senior Lanard Stafford returns as the starting fullback this season, and the 5'9", 247 pound Hemingway, SC native had a solid spring, paving the way for the running game and even serving as the occasional receiving threat out of the backfield. Stafford will be backed up by fellow senior Ryan Brown, who made the transition from defensive end to fullback during the spring.
Caption: Lanard Stafford is recognized with the Steve Sisk Outstanding Blocking Award during halftime of the Garnet and Black Game.
The Gamecocks will feature a deep and talented running back rotation in 2007, and with question marks still lingering at wide receiver and on the offensive line, USC will look to rely on their strong ground attack until the other areas of the offense come around.
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