Cock-N-Fire: The Future Gunslingers for USC

Coach Steve Spurrier has said numerous times that the most pleasant surprise of fall camp has been the improved play of his back-up quarterbacks. So who will win the #2 spot behind Blake Mitchell and take the role of heir apparent? Read inside for interviews with Tommy Beecher, Chris Smelley, Stephen Garcia, and Coach Spurrier for an in-depth look at the future of USC's signal callers.


There is no surprise that redshirt senior Blake Mitchell will be the starting quarterback heading into the 2007 season for South Carolina, but Tommy Beecher and Chris Smelley have been the most pleasant surprises of the fall camp so far according to Spurrier. "They're ready to play," he said. "If Blake goes bad, which I don't expect him to do, they're ready to play. I have confidence Tommy Beecher and Chris Smelley can both go in there and play and play very well."

Despite having a year less in the system than Beecher, public perception was that Smelley was the odds on favorite to be #2 this season behind Mitchell. But Beecher has played like a man on a mission, and has played Smelley to a dead heat this summer; to the point some analysts are now predicting Beecher, not Smelley, as the #2 guy.

Beecher is known for his intellect as well as his athletic ability. "I'm an actuary mathematics major, which is a math major with an extra 24 hours of business and statistics."

Beecher says it's the brains part he needs right now to be a contender for the top spot and nail down the #2 position. "Just digging in the play book and understanding different coverages and what are good plays against the different coverages."



Steve Spurrier has praised Tommy Beecher numerous times this fall for the progress he's made since last season.


His mastery of the playbook and intelligent play on the field have placed him right where he wants to be right now, but he stresses he's got the all the physical tools too. "I'm making the most of the opportunity and getting the ball where it needs to be. I like to think I'm mobile as well. I ran a lot in high school."

Beecher was part of Spurrier's first recruiting class at USC, and was one of two quarterbacks recruited that year. The other one, Cade Thompson, has transferred to a smaller school, and Beecher was frank in admitting he considered it too. "My redshirt freshman year, I almost didn't come back, actually. It was a rough year for me, and I wasn't used to not playing so I had to make a decision whether I was coming back or not, and I decided to. That's when I really devoted a lot of my time to getting better. I worked on my footwork. That was a problem early on, and then getting to know the offensive playbook. I don't know if my footwork will ever be exactly where coach wants it to be, but it's got a lot better since I got here."

One of the highlights of being at USC for Beecher has been working under the tutelage of the quarterback-maker, Steve Spurrier. "He's an absolute genius. He knows exactly what we're supposed to do on every play. It's fun to watch him during practice, because it almost seems like he knows exactly where the ball should go before it snaps." Asked if he might want to follow in his coach's footsteps, he said, "When I graduate, I want to be an actuary. I've never really considered coaching. First be an actuary, then maybe high school coaching, not college coaching."

While Smelley and Beecher are in a heated race for the backup quarterback job, Spurrier is confident that his returning starter can get the job done this season. "Blake in all likelihood is going to be our starter, but he knows he needs to play well." Spurrier said. "These guys (gesturing to Beecher and Smelley) have proven out here that they can play. I think (Blake) will play well. It would be nice to have one quarterback all year. I don't just switch them for the heck of it. I switch them because I think the other guy gives us the best chance to win."

Mitchell was named to the Manning Award Watch list during the summer. "He's got a chance to have a big year," said Spurrier. "If we can block well, run well and get some guys open, he's got a chance. Quarterbacks on winning teams get a lot of awards."

"We've got the players here," continued Coach Spurrier. "These guys are very similar to the guys we had at Florida. In fact, these guys are probably stronger. Our players are physically just as good."

Smelley played early as a backup to Mitchell last season, but then received a medical redshirt due to a heel injury. With a full year in Spurrier's system under his belt, Smelley says, "I definitely feel more comfortable than I have at any point so far. I feel like if I got an opportunity to play this year, I could go out there and move the team and do what I need to do to give the team a chance to win. I feel confident, and I'm real excited about what's going to happen in the future. I feel like I've got a good grasp of the offense this year. I've prepared real well, studied my playbook, and watched plenty of film, so I'm prepared to go if I ever get a chance."

He talked about what he feels makes him unique as a quarterback: "I just go in there and be calm all the time, and be cool under pressure, be able to make all the throws and be able to run when needed. I feel like I have a good total package to help the team out."



Redshirt freshman quarterback Chris Smelley is battling with sophomore Tommy Beecher for the backup quarterback duties this fall.


Smelley and the other quarterbacks got some highly touted new playmakers this summer to throw the ball to, and according to Smelley, he's been very impressed with the freshman receivers thus far. "The new receivers are great." He said. "We have a couple of tall guys who can go up high and get the ball and you've got a couple of speedsters, so it's a good mix of receivers. We'll see some good things from them."

Much of the media attention this spring and summer has been on the newest quarterback in the fold, true freshman Stephen Garcia. The dual-threat signal caller gave up the last half of his senior year in high school to enroll in USC in January to try to learn the system and compete for playing time this fall. However, it didn't work out as he had hoped, as Garcia was suspended from the team and kept out of spring practice after two minor skirmishes with the law. He has been reinstated and is practicing with the team now, but Spurrier said, "Those three guys are definitely ahead of Stephen Garcia, and they should be." Barring injuries or the unforeseen, Garcia will in all likelihood redshirt this season.

The 6'3" Garcia has gained more than just the wisdom that comes from overcoming adversity since coming to USC: "I've put on a lot of weight and gotten a lot stronger. I'm 225 now, and am a lot stronger than I was in high school. I played my last year of high school between 208 and 210, so I feel really comfortable getting out there with the other quarterbacks and throwing to the receivers. It's made a major difference in the last few months. This whole conditioning, Coach (Mark) Smith – he killed us, man, he killed us. My stamina's a little better. Definitely a shock when I got up here from high school."

The Tampa product talked about the team coming together this summer: "Underclassmen and upperclassmen, we're all looking forward to getting out there and playing together." He said his biggest adjustment was how unrelentingly fast the speed of the college game is. "You see 6'2" 260 pound Jasper Brinkley running out there at the speed he does, it's pretty intimidating. The speed of the game is unbelievable."

Garcia is realistic about his opportunity to play this year, and defers to his coach. "It's up to him, whoever he feels comfortable being out there. Whether it's on the scout team helping the defense get a look, or being on the field for the games, I want to help the team be better." On suggestions that he might play a role similar to what Tim Tebow did for Florida in 2006 or Syvelle Newton did for Carolina in 2005 where they were used as a change of pace quarterback, Garcia said, "Tebow didn't throw a lot, I really want to get out there and throw a little bit. But yeah, I could definitely be fine with that, do whatever I can to help the team win."

Garcia insisted on sharing a message with the Gamecock fans: "I'm sorry for what happened in the spring, but it's behind me, and I'm looking forward to helping the team win and getting that SEC Championship."


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