Personnel changes highlight Thursday practice

The Gamecocks practiced again Thursday afternoon as they finished up preparations for this weekend's home matchup against S.C. State, and the coaches announced a pair of personnel changes following the workout. Read inside for an in depth report on Thursday's practice session.


Offensively, Steve Spurrier announced that backup quarterback Tommy Beecher, who did not see action against Georgia last weekend, will definitely see playing time in relief of starter Blake Mitchell.

"He's going in first possession of the second quarter," said Spurrier. "If we're in the middle of a drive, Blake will stay in there, but Beecher's going in. We've got to see what he can do."

Spurrier said he intended to put Beecher in against Georgia last week, but the opportunity never presented itself.

"I thought he was going to get in there," Spurrier said. "He just didn't get in there, but he held for extra points and field goals very well. He contributed mightily."

Defensively, safety Brandon Isaac will start at cornerback in place of Carlos Thomas, who is suspended for the first half after committing a pair of personal foul penalties on Georgia's opening drive. Darian Stewart will slide over to Isaac's free safety slot, making room for Emanuel Cook to return to the starting strong safety position.

"I have to look and say ‘who's the top four guys?'" said secondary coach Ron Cooper. "Brandon fits that a little more. It could definitely be [permanent]. Before he was injured, we thought he and [NFL first round pick] Jonathan Joseph had the best cover skills two years ago. At that time we thought we needed more help at safety."

It may seem that it would have made more sense to move Stoney Woodson, who played cornerback during fall camp but was moved to safety when Emanuel Cook went down, back to corner. Cooper said that is not the case.

"I still need Stoney to play safety," he explained. "It's a little bit easier to go play corner. It's harder to take a corner and turn him into a safety. I've got to continue training Stoney at the safety."

Cooper explained that because of all the responsibilities in reading the coverages and seeing the entire field, safety is a more complicated position to learn than cornerback. For that reason, he likes having players who can contribute at both positions if someone else goes down.

"Anybody that can actually learn both positions, it's a positive," he said. "It's going to take 8 guys. Teams may come in with five receivers, so it's going to take 8 guys that know what to do. I wish I had a couple more that I could get ready."

Defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said much the same thing when asked how the coaches decide to rotate players.

"We try to play as many as we can," he said. "The players dictate how many we rotate in there."

These changes come after Spurrier announced earlier in the week that several starters would play on special teams. He had not changed his mind Thursday night.

"Hopefully our fans will see a bunch of guys running down and covering kickoffs like they care," he said. "We had the wrong guys out there, so we're going to try to get some guys that care."

The offensive line will continue to see a three-man rotation at the guard spots. Garrett Anderson, Lemuel Jeanpierre, and Gurminder Thind will all play, much like they did against Georgia. Spurrier said he is not surprised that Thind has made a seamless transition from tackle to guard.

"It's not that different," said Spurrier. "You've still got to just block somebody, block your gap or block somebody; it's not a huge difference."

S.C. State runs a spread offense similar to the one used successfully by Louisiana-Lafayette, a fact that certainly has everyone's attention. Nix said he has a lot of respect for the Bulldogs' offense, and the key to stopping them will be playing assignments.

"They're a spread option team that has the ability to play action and throw deep," he said. "They're a well coached team. They run the ball well and can throw it."


Notes:

- Mike West, who moved to cornerback in the fall, seems to have fallen out of the rotation, but Cooper said West still has a role on the team. West is trying to learn the most complicated position in the secondary, nickel back. "I want him to become more aggressive," said Cooper. "Something, sooner or later, is going to happen in a game, and he's going to have to go."

- Wide receiver Chris Culliver did not practice on Thursday. He will dress Saturday, and could play.

- Guard Kevin Young (ankle) is not progressing as well as hoped, and he still looks to be out another 2-3 weeks.

- Spurrier refused to acknowledge the possibility of a letdown against S.C. State, saying only, "We don't believe in that."


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