Frisby's Corner: Kickoff Column 2007
LET'S PLAY SOME FOOTBALL! Season three of the Steve Spurrier era begins Saturday, and season two of your favorite weekly sports column starts now. It's been a long spring and summer for you folks, but believe me, it has been much longer for the players who have been waiting to lace up the cleats on Saturday. The players have endured cold winter mornings in "The Bubble", hours of weight lifting, film sessions, spring practice and the murderous summer heat. I don't believe Louisiana-Lafayette quite understands what they're in for Saturday evening. The Gamecocks have a highly pressurized and shaken up can of whup-ass to release on the Rajin' Cajuns at 7:05 p.m.
Ok, let's give them some credit. Yes, I do think the Cajuns realize that this is "Sacrifice Saturday." Sure they may play off emotions for the first few minutes, until they realize that this is the SEC, where everyone puts on big-boy pants. Let's be real here, the Gamecocks are not a four touchdown favorite because their new Under Armour uniforms are all the rage. This Gamecock team has gotten progressively better during the past three years. South Carolina is now reloading talent-wise instead of rebuilding. This is always a sign of an elite program on the rise. This is a team that can no longer be overlooked. You better come with your chinstrap tightened up when you step in this house.
Let's take a look at who I believe will have an impact on Saturday and throughout the season:
OFFENSIVE LINE: True, Coach John Hunt used about eight different starting combinations before he found one that jelled last year. The key is he found one that jelled! The bad news is USC lost three starters along the line who were consistent down the stretch.
The good news is that Carolina has a bevy of O-linemen who got valuable experience in the trenches last year. There is plenty of talented depth, and thanks to Coach Spurrier's recruiting efforts, he gets to coach up some more this year. Justin Sorensen finally came of age last year. I was a little worried about the gentle giant for a while. I thought he might not have enough of a mean streak in him for SEC football. But the canuck should be a shoe-in at right tackle this year. He has a quality backup in Hutch Eckerson, who was thrown into the fire last year. Jamon Meredith returns as a starter at left tackle, but look for Gurminder Thind to get some playing time there and at guard. It looks like Web Brown will hold down the center position. I'm interested in seeing if Jeremy Burgess can provide anything to the O-line after three injury-riddled years. Sophomore Garrett Anderson should get the left guard spot. James Thompson is projected at right guard, but O-line newcomer Lemuel JeanPierre will push him later in the year for time.
I believe last year's trial-by-fire has solidified this group, and they have grasped Coach Hunt's system. Look for a little tuning early in the season, but barring injury, this line should jell much faster then last year.
RUNNING BACK: Cory Boyd is my dark horse candidate for the Heisman Trophy. No, unfortunately he won't get enough carries in this system, but if he stays healthy look for him to be the best back in the SEC. I really like Mike Davis. He started out the past two seasons running "to" holes instead of running "through" holes. However, he has become the north-south runner that USC's been expecting and will lower his head to get you that extra yard. I love Lanard Stafford at fullback. He blocks and runs like he is still vying for a scholarship. "Stack," as he is called by his teammates, leaves it all on the field. What else could you ask from a fullback in this system? I believe Brian Maddox has proven to be too good to keep off the field. Kiss that redshirt goodbye and look for some quality carries from the young fella. Bobby Wallace should add some added quickness from his scatback position once he returns to full speed. Taylor Rank is an able-bodied backup as well.
WIDE RECEIVER: Will Sidney Rice's replacement please stand up? Obviously no one is going to replace Sidney's numbers single-handedly this season. USC will rely on a receiver by committee approach. Kenny McKinley seems to be the heir apparent as far as the bulk of the catches this season. However, the Gamecocks will need quality starts from the rest of the receiving corps to make a successful season.
I believe Freddie Brown is a quality possession receiver, who has shown an uncanny ability to convert third downs into firsts. As a matter of fact, I have nicknamed him "First Down Freddie Brown." When Moe Brown's hands catch up to his feet, he is going to be something to watch. I really think USC is going to need one or two of the freshman receivers to step up to the plate. Jason Barnes, Chris Culliver, or Mark Barnes seem like the likely candidates.
I hope that we can get a good look from Larry Freeman early in the season. Coach Spurrier still has the jury out on Freeman. There are a few things that the "Ol' Ball Coach" won't tolerate from receivers. They are: jumping off sides, not running your route correctly, and dropping balls. You can expect to be standing next to him on the sidelines if you have problems with any of those aspects.
Look for Andy Boyd and Jared Cook to hold down the tight end position. Boyd is an excellent blocker with good hands and Cook is a phenom in the making. I think "The Captain" lives up to his nickname rather nicely. Look for cook to have a breakout year this fall.
QUARTERBACK: Yes, Chris Smelley will start the year under center, but the starting job will belong to Blake Mitchell in the Georgia game barring any shenanigans by the fifth year senior. Mitchell is very comfortable in Spurrier's offense after three years under the taskmaster. The only thing that would make Blake any happier is if he had Sidney to throw to this year. Unfortunetly he doesn't, but look for him to improve on last year's numbers significantly. Blake's only weakness seems to be an inability at times to recognize the defensive switch from man to zone. I'm sure Coach Spurrier has spent countless hours with him correcting that annoying habit.
Carolina has two quality backups in Chris Smelley and Tommy Beecher. Stephen Garcia will get to take in the Spurrier experience from the sidelines this year. He looks to be the quarteback of the future, so hopefully he will absorb all he can during his redshirt year.
DEFENSIVE LINE: We saved the best for last!! Coach Tyrone Nix has this "D" firing on all cylinders. We have all but one starter back from last year's defense that allowed only 18.7 points per game. Look for the Gamecocks to tighten the vice a little more this year, as this defense is loaded with athletes.
Marque Hall returns from injury, and if he can play anywhere close to how he started off last season, he will be a plus for an already powerful D-line. He'll be backed up by JUCO transfer Jonathan Williams. Freshman Ladi Ajiboye will push returning starter Nathan Pepper for the starting tackle spot opposite Hall. Kenrick "Get In My Belly" Ellis could add depth if he pushes back from the training table and commits to the weight room.
At defensive end, the spot opposite Eric Norwood is a position that is most up for grabs with a plethora of heat seeking missiles vying for a spot on the depth chart. Jordin Lindsey will jockey with freshman standout and current starter Travian Robertson for the position, pending the outcome of his academic situation. Clifton Geathers and Ryan Brown will also be in the mix. The other D-end position belongs to First Team Freshman All-American Eric Norwood. Freshman Cliff Matthews will also see some time.
LINEBACKER: USC is loaded at the linebacker position. First and foremost, the "Brinkley Boys" return for their senior season. Jasper "Bad Intentions" Brinkley is a beast, and there is quality depth behind him with the likes of sophomore Vandaral Shackleford and junior Yvan Banag, who has a nose for the ball. Casper Brinkley holds down the weakside linebacker spot and can bring it also. Freshman Melvin Ingram and Cody Wells, who always has his engine running, will serve as solid backups. Sophomore Rodney Paulk holds down the strongside linebacker position, with backup from the hard hitting Marvin Sapp and the emerging Gerrod Sinclair.
SECONDARY: The secondary should be solid as well. Coach Ron "Webster" Cooper has a defensive backfield that matches the finest in the SEC. Captain Munnerlyn returns at one corner with a year under his belt,and I like this kid's tenaciousness and recovery speed. It looks like junior Carlos Thomas will take the other corner spot when Stoney Woodson moves back to safety to replace the injured Emanuel Cook. Thomas must fight his inclination to gamble for the interception. "Los" has to stay disciplined this year to avoid the big play in the secondary. Thomas and Munnerlyn will be backed up by speedy senior Mike West, who appears to have found a home at corner this fall.
The strong safety position belongs to hard hitting Brandon Isaac, who returns after missing last year with a shoulder injury. He will Be backed up by senior leader Chris Hampton, who is known for his take control attitude and his field general mentality. Sophomore Darian Stewart will back up Stoney Woodson at the free safety position.
CLEMSON SIDEBAR: I know Tiger fans hate to see me coming. I just can't help myself. I work part-time at the Home Depot, and I don't even like wearing that damn orange apron. I think they should have a special garnet edition apron in Columbia!
Anyway, it's make or break time right away for the Tigers on Monday night. The Seminoles come into Death Valley with a chip on their shoulders. Clemson has caught the Seminoles with their pants down the last couple of years. The 'Noles offense has been lost like a golf ball in tall weeds recently. I think it may be a different story this year, as Jimbo Fisher brings in a revamped FSU offense. I have one question for Tiger fans: What is going to keep teams from stacking the box on you and making you throw the ball? I'll tell you what, nothing!
You better have a plan to utilize C.J. Spiller in the slot or get him a lot of quick passes out of the backfield. I don't think there will be too much thunder and lightning on Monday night, unless the Seminoles forget to watch last year's tapes. I don't think James Davis is going to be a happy camper this year. His carries will diminish, and he is not a huge pass catching threat out of the backfield. I really like Jacoby Ford, though. I think the kid has plenty of talent, but I don't think he is polished enough to be a consistent downfield threat. Aaron Kelley, forget it. That guy has barley caught a cold in the last two years. Rendrick Taylor, maybe, if he can stay healthy.
Basically, you are in the same situation as last year, except your starting quarterback is greener, and you don't have a Chansi Stuckey at receiver. As far as Cullen Harper, you'll be wishing you had Will Proctor back by mid-season. Please don't throw Willy Korn in the fire. You may ruin the kid if you force him to play this year. Anyway, the Clemson defense looks like a bright spot. The defense may actually allow the Tigers to stay in the majority of games. The question will be, as in baseball, can the offense give you any "run support?" Anyway, anything can happen on Monday night. That's why we play the games. The Tigers may surprise me. Somehow I think that is highly unlikely though.
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