2007 Key to Success: Offensive Line
"There are some concerns. I know people have them. I do too, quite frankly," said Offensive Line Coach John Hunt, "But we have a lot more people in our program. There are some in the program that have been here for a year or so. That's different from in the past."
After the Gamecock offense was crushed by an overwhelming Georgia defense in game two last year, there were no other options – Syvelle Newton had to take the reigns at quarterback. The reason? He could run away from those the offensive line could not stop.
Accumulating an average of only 224 yards in the air after two weeks, it was obvious there were flaws. Comparatively, after Jamon Meredith was moved to left tackle, thus protecting Blake Mitchell's blind side, and Justin Sorensen was inserted into Meredith's old right tackle spot, the offense picked up.
In the last five games of the year, against strong competition the Gamecocks averaged 312 passing yards per game. The rushing game that accumulated just 116 yards in the first two games combined was now posting nearly 150 yards per game by the last five contests.
With the progress, though, came a step backwards as the entire interior part of the line graduated. However, a deeper roster in 2007 would offer new options. The task remains an uphill battle, but one easier attainable than 2006.
"Coming out of spring drills, I was hoping to feel better about my interior guys," said Coach Hunt, "We have some progress to make between now and the first game. Someone has to step up and anchor down the interior. I wish I could say who those guys are that'll step up, but I can't right now."
South Carolina's offensive line showed signs of progress during the spring, but they will need to show continued improvement once fall camp arrives.
After spring practice, the same ones Coach Hunt seemed slightly disappointed with, the starters named on the depth chart are as follows:
Juniors Jamon Meredith and Justin Sorenson return as the left and right tackles, respectively. Senior William Brown will be the center, and he'll be flanked by sophomore Garrett Anderson and senior James Thompson at the guard spots.
Coach Hunt assessed more specifically where some of the new interior linemen stand, "William Brown was solid in the spring, but still has a ways to go. Garrett Anderson has tremendous upside and ability, but he's not there yet."
An interesting wrinkle came in the middle of the spring workouts when the coaching staff decided to move sophomore Lemuel Jeanpierre from the defensive line to offense. Though he's listed behind James Thompson at the moment, Coach Spurrier went as far as predicting Jeanpierre would earn a starting role by week one of the season.
"I just think he's got the ability to do it, and the commitment," Spurrier said. "He'll be here all summer lifting, working out, and learning the plays. He's that type of young man, and those are the types you've got to get on the field."
About the switch, Jeanpierre jumped on the opportunity like Spurrier knew he would.
"Coach Spurrier said I could really help on the offensive line, and I might even have a brighter future there," Jeanpierre said. "The coaches are really working with me right now, and I'm willing to put in the extra time to do that. I want to help the team win the SEC Championship, and if I can help out most at guard, I'll do that."
Coach Hunt simply shrugged off the commitment from Jeanpierre as though he knew this was one young man he need not worry about, "Oh man, if there's one guy on this team you don't have to worry about, it's Lem."
Newly converted offensive lineman Lemuel Jeanpierre was awarded with the weight room effort award at the conclusion of spring practice.
Spearheading the biggest issues with 2005 and 2006, Coach Hunt also pinpointed a dire need to start the season successfully, rather than working towards success somewhere in the middle, "Contrary to the past two years, I'm going to do my best to get us to start faster than we have. We've always played well the past two years towards the end of the season but really lousy early. So I'm doing everything I can to get them started faster."
Hunt addressed earlier another luxury unavailable last season, but improved as time passes. The ability to choose between linemen offers opportunity, motivation and options.
Redshirt freshman Kevin Young looks as though he may figure into the mix as well. "Young, if we can keep him healthy," says Hunt "has a lot of strength and physical attributes."
The true freshmen, though Hunt believes they'll need a year to bulk up, also offer athleticism and a bright future. Hunt raved about his two newcomers, "Kyle Nunn and Quintin Richardson are both athletic and lean. We're really excited about both of them. They just need to get down there with Mark Smith, the trainer, and get strong. They do have some athleticism though."
Revealing a major flaw in the first two years of the new Gamecock era, Coach Hunt and Coach Spurrier will work endlessly to get the 2007 offensive line on top of its game early in the season.
September 1st against Louisiana-Lafayette will offer a glimpse of what's to come. By week two, the Gamecocks will look to completely reverse their 2006 performance against Georgia. The offensive line's showing had everything to do with the shutout loss. If performance is in fact better early, the Gamecocks will really get to test the new interior line as well as the progression of the returning tackles by week four. They'll be playing at Baton Rouge against an LSU team many predict to be a National Champion favorite.
Coach Hunt referred back to his "someone has to step up" comment by noting, "Even though I don't know who it'll be, I'm optimistic one of them will."
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