Tight ends emerging as threat in USC offense

In the weeks and months leading up to kickoff of the 2007 season, there were signs and whispers that the tight end position could finally, finally begin to be utilized as a receiving threat in South Carolina's offense. Sure enough, when the Gamecocks defeated Louisiana Lafayette in the season opener, a trio of tight ends began to establish themselves as legitimate weapons in USC's passing game.

The arrival of highly touted freshman Weslye Saunders, combined with the move of sophomore Jared Cook from wide receiver to tight end was thought to be the pass catching boost the tight end position sorely needed. However, Andy Boyd, generally known for his outstanding blocking ability, also showed off his skills as a receiving threat in Saturday's opener.

As a group, the tight ends made their presence felt, combining for six catches and 102 yards receiving and a touchdown in a 28-14 defeat of ULL. The surprise was that half the production came from Boyd, the sixth year senior who had racked up fewer catches and yards in five years than the group had Saturday night. Boyd, who had four catches in his career, and never more than one in a game, had three grabs for 48 yards and a touchdown. The 46 yards was the most of any Gamecock receiver.

For probably the first time in his career, the media wanted to hear from Boyd, who is known as one of the premier blocking tight ends in the SEC. Boyd spoke to the media following the game, and again following the Tuesday press conference. He seemed slightly amused by all the attention he was getting for three catches, and laughed when he was asked if he would be campaigning for more passes to be thrown his way.

"I don't think [I have] that much say," he laughed. "I think it's good to show what our capabilities are, and maybe there will be some plays for us. We (the tight ends) could definitely be used more in the game plan now."

Boyd said he does not think he ever even had three catches in a high school game, and is not be anticipating many more games like the opener.

Saunders and Cook are expected to get more playing time as the season progresses, taking away Boyd's opportunities in the passing game, but he acknowledged that it was rewarding to play such a big role in a win.

"It's encouraging, definitely," he said. "I'm not complaining at all... Catching another touchdown pass and playing in front of the fans, that's the whole reason I came back."

Senior Andy Boyd had 3 catches for 48 yards and 1 touchdown in Saturday's win over Louisiana Lafayette.

Boyd deflected most of the praise for his strong showing, giving the young quarterbacks, Chris Smelley and Tommy Beecher most of the credit. He says he did not do anything special, and that his catches were the result of the quarterback reading the coverage and finding the open man, who just happened to be the tight end.

"The quarterback made good reads, and we got some balls thrown our way and got an opportunity to catch them," Boyd said. "A lot is just based on the different coverages the defense is in. I happened to be open, and they threw it to me. That's what coach tells them to do: find the open man. It's about reading coverages."

"Weslye and Cook made some really nice catches on balls thrown their way. I was open a couple times and the quarterback just made the reads. We've got to take that opportunity and keep building on it, and hopefully help out the offense even more."

Although there were a number of positives in the game, Carolina did not play as well offensively against Louisiana-Lafayette as they had hoped. As they prepare for Georgia, the focus is on working out the kinks.

"Early on we looked good," Boyd said, "[and then] it looked like we sort of stuttered there. It was more or less just us working things out... As long as we can see progression, that would be great. We definitely have to play at a higher level, playing against teams like Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, teams like that. We can't afford to make mistakes or have penalties, things like that. We've got to come out there and play perfect ball. Trying to get everybody to understand that and play on the same page is the key, I think."

When Boyd was asked about having never beaten Georgia, he nodded knowingly, giving a strong indication that, even though he will not say it, he does not want his Gamecock career to end without a win over the Bulldogs.

"It's any other game," he said, echoing what the coaches have been preaching. "From the first game to the last game, they're all just as important. Every game we go out there and try to improve, try to show what we can do, try to make the adjustments, and make less mistakes. Most of the games [against Georgia] have been close. I guess you could say, based on this game, how the other team does during the year. Then again, two years ago, we lost to Georgia and still beat Tennessee and Florida, so it's just a matter of keeping a level head, keep improving week to week and not letting one game affect the other."

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