O-line Aiming For Stronger Start This Season

Going into the third season of the Steve Spurrier era, hopes are high in Gamecock Nation. Spurrier says the goal for this year's squad is an SEC Championship, and he has the entire team believing in him. The reasons for optimism abound, but one major question still lingers - Can the offensive line avoid another slow start this season after losing three starters from a year ago?

In each of Spurrier's first two years at South Carolina, the offensive line has gotten off to a slow start before rounding into form by the end of the year, only to lose key starters before the next season. This year, the starters lost include all three interior positions. The key to the entire season may be whether the line can gel quickly enough to stand up to a tough early season schedule.

"We want to start early," said junior left tackle Jamon Meredith, who along with right tackle Justin Sorensen is a returning starter. "That's what Coach (John) Hunt always emphasizes. Most of the time, we start off kind of rocky and get there as we go along."

Meredith knows the pressure is on the offensive line, but bristles at the assertion that the unit is a liability. After a recent practice, Spurrier criticized the line, saying the linemen "don't know whether to go right or left." When he was asked about what Spurrier said, Meredith gave several short, terse answers.

"We struggled a little bit, but we are going to get a lot better the more work we do," he said defensively. Part of that work involves breaking in the three new starters. Not only are they new starters, but also they are inexperienced players. With that in mind, the linemen spend a lot of time with each other, studying what everyone's responsibilities are.

"We are meeting more and working together a lot more," Meredith said, "so I feel really confident. A lot of the younger guys are just now coming in, so a lot of this is new to them. They're only one or two years out of high school, so the more they study their playbook and the more we all know the offense, we'll be fine and know the right way to go. They are coming along. It will take some time, but they are coming along.

"O-line is a unit," he explained. "One person can't make the o-line, so it's all together, not about individuals. It's not one person doing good and one person doing bad, it's a unit."

If the offensive line can give quarterback Blake Mitchell more time to work early this season, that would bode well for USC's chances in their crucial week two showdown against Georgia.

The man currently lining up next to Meredith might have a different take on Meredith's idea of solidarity. Sophomore guard Garrett Anderson was clearly "one person doing bad" when he got into a fight with defensive tackle Ladi Ajiboye during the second practice of fall. Anderson broke a bone in his hand, but was fortunate to only miss two practices.

"I was pretty angry about [breaking my hand]," Anderson said. "When they told me it was broken, it really frustrated me. It's such a stupid thing. My girlfriend was out there, and her cheerleader friends are going, ‘Who fights with their teammate?' and my girlfriend goes, ‘That's my boyfriend.'"

Anderson considers himself lucky that he was able to get back on the field so quickly, and avoid falling behind his teammates. Furthermore, the lefty figures he dodged a bullet by breaking his right hand.

"The right hand is so much better to break," he said. "I'm able to do my projects for school. Hopefully I can come back and [win] a spot at left guard. I think it is going to be a good battle in there."

The right guard spot is also up for grabs early in fall camp, but senior James Thompson believes he is primed for a strong season. Even though he is a senior, Thompson has seen limited playing time in his career, which means he "really wants it" according to Anderson. Thompson was penciled in as a starter last year, but was suspended for the first four games for violating team rules. The suspension set the line back, and Thompson never recovered, playing only as a reserve.

"It was a mistake on my hands," Thompson said. "Now I'm trying to move on and get ready for this season. It motivates me a lot because I feel like I have a lot to prove to a lot of people around here. I plan to come in and have a good camp, push the rookies real hard, and push the defensive players.

"I feel that, as an offensive line, we have a lot to prove."

Most people would agree with that, but nobody on the offensive line seems to worry.

"We will rise to the occasion and do what we are supposed to do," Meredith said confidently, and Spurrier hopes he is right.

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