Lemuel Jeanpierre: Ready Every Snap
The Gamecocks struggled along the offensive line during Coach Steve Spurrier's first two seasons at USC. They entered the 2007 season focused on solving those problems, including moving sophomore defensive lineman Lemuel Jeanpierre to offensive guard. Part of Spurrier's first recruiting class at South Carolina, like most linemen, Jeanpierre was redshirted his first season. Last season as a defensive lineman, he played in all thirteen games, improving steadily as the season progressed, and started his first game in the Liberty Bowl, where he had a season-high five tackles and forced a fumble in the win over Houston.
The coaches approached him during spring practice about switching to the offensive side of the line, and he was receptive to the idea. "My first thought about it was, it's an opportunity. Coach Spurrier came up to me; he said, 'I've seen your tape; I think you're a pretty good athlete, and I want to get you on the field more.' Coming from him, that's a real big compliment. I was told, 'Come over here and play, work hard, and maybe you can start.' They said, 'If it doesn't work out for you, you can go back to defense, but we really think you'll be fine.' I'm just trusting the coaches; they have more football knowledge than I do."
With one game under his belt, he is fine. He played every snap in the game for the offense. Spurrier had said in the week leading up to the game that they would probably play eight or nine linemen to see who was playing best, but the five starting linemen ended up playing the majority of the game, leaving the non-starters watching from the bench. The one exception was Gurminder Thind, who came off the bench to play late in the second half.
Jeanpierre entered the week backing up senior James Thompson, and found out he was going to start on Friday when the team was going through its pre-game walk-throughs. Thompson was suspended for the second year in a row at the start of the season. Last year it was for four games for stealing from then teammate Stanley Doughty. This year it was for an unspecified violation of team rules, and he will sit out for at least the first three games of the season. "They said, 'Get ready,' and I said I was." Jeanpierre said.
The 6'3" 295 pound Orlando native was low key when asked about his opportunity to start: "I practice every day, trying to learn, and play to the best of my ability, I was practicing so I could play. Starting, playing, I mean, starting is only like playing the first play, it doesn't mean you're going to play the whole game. I try to get in there and get my reps. I felt fine."
When asked about cementing the starting job with his play while Thompson is out, he replied, "I'm presented with an opportunity right now to play. We'll watch tape, the best player's going to play, and I'm trying every day to get more understanding of my fundamentals, my techniques. With my first game under my belt playing offensive line, I'm going to try to learn from my mistakes. I want to be perfect in my steps, where I go, block, everything."
Jeanpierre displays a cool confidence when talking, but he is anything but cocky. He is frank in his assessment of where he feels he needs to improve: "I need to get better at everything. My technique, understanding the plays… I'm getting better, but I still need to get better. Until I understand what the running back has to do, what the safety is probably going to do, I'm reading them, learning. I'm fighting to get better every day."
He thinks the O-line as a whole has improved. "I made some mistakes, I'm not happy with that. I try to be a perfectionist, but we were all right," he said. "As a unit, I think we did pretty good, but the only way you'll really know is on Monday when you see the tape and understand how you really did. Right now, we feel pretty good – we got a win. As an O-line, we're always trying to get better; we're always talking about it."
"Coming into the season, we were known as the weak focal point of the team, and we want to get better every day, we don't want that name over our head. Everybody in the O-line, we study everybody's position of the offense, Coach Hunt has us studying understanding what the center does, back side tackle, all that, so when you have a better understanding of the whole thing, you'll understand the play better, that's key. The best five offensive linemen are going to be the ones playing."
He feels any of the three quarterbacks he is charged to protect can run the team effectively when they are in the game. "Not much difference between them (Mitchell, Beecher, and Smelley). All three of them are very calm and collected, they're confident. You see them at the line; they know what they're talking about."
The big lineman got a big laugh when asked if he had gotten into an offensive mindset and stopped being a defensive headhunter. "I play offensive line; I can still be a headhunter." You could feel his rush as he explained, "Making blocks, heads up with a linebacker, go ahead and try to get somebody!"
There will be a lot of talk this week dissecting the performance of a USC team that did not play as well as most expected. That talk will not center around the play of the offensive line this time, and that's exactly how Jeanpierre and his fellow big uglies want it.
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