New faces highlight updated depth chart

Following the first loss of the year, the theme surrounding the Gamecocks this week is change. Due to injury and poor play, five new players will start in the Homecoming game against Mississippi State. From the outside, it may seem like Steve Spurrier is hitting the panic button, but Spurrier dismissed the notion with his trademark smirk at Tuesday afternoon's press conference.

"It doesn't concern me a bit," he said, when it was suggested one too many times that making changes to the lineup is a bad sign. "We're trying to put the best players out there to win the game. Substituting is not anything I think is bad. To me, it's not bad; it's giving everybody an opportunity to play. That's why you have 85 to 100 players on a team. If they only gave you 22 players, then we wouldn't have to substitute until somebody gets hurt. [You] keep trying your players and sometimes the light comes on."

The five new starters include junior linebacker Marvin Sapp, who will step into the considerable void created by Jasper Brinkley's knee injury, and four offensive players. Sapp has experience playing on defense, and Spurrier complimented him for his positive attitude while acknowledging that there will be a drop-off from Brinkley to Sapp.

"Marvin has played well at times and not so well at times," Spurrier said. "Marvin is excited about this opportunity. He had a heck of a game last year at Mississippi State in the opener, and he made a lot of tackles. In the middle of the year, he didn't play all that well and missed some tackles. He's come around and has a wonderful attitude. When he wasn't starting last year, he might have pouted a little bit. This year when he was not a starter, he had a very good attitude. He's ready to play and looking forward to his chance."

On offense, or the Steve Spurrier side of the ball, the lineup changes are all the result of coaching decisions, not injury. True freshman Dion Lecorn will start opposite Kenny McKinley at wide receiver. Senior James Thompson will start at right guard, the spot he was initially supposed to play before being suspended for the first three games of the season. Redshirt freshman Seaver Brown will start at left guard. The final change on offense is the one that has garnered the most attention: redshirt freshman Chris Smelley will replace senior Blake Mitchell at quarterback. Spurrier talked about the reasons behind each decision.

When asked why he made the decision to insert Lecorn into the starting lineup, Spurrier was initially unaware that the depth chart listed the freshman as a starter. Assured that it was the case, Spurrier shrugged and intimated that in the quest to find a reliable number two receiver, it is simply Lecorn's turn.

"We're going to see if he can catch a pass or two, see if he can run the routes, and see if he can play better than whoever's been playing there before," said Spurrier. "We've had two or three try there, and nothing much has happened very good, so we're going to give Dion a shot there."

Because none of the receivers have stepped up thus far, it has opened the door for tight ends Jared Cook and Weslye Saunders. Cook has played well this year, and Saunders has done the same in more limited chances.

"You talk about the wideouts, but we might turn into a running back and tight end team. It's always funny, every time I go to recruit a tight end, people will say ‘You know, Steve Spurrier is not going to throw to tight ends so you're wasting your time going there.' I always tell them, ‘If you can get out and get open and catch the ball, we'll throw to you. If you can't get out and get open and can't catch, we won't throw to you.' Right now we have some receivers that can't get open, and can't catch, so we're not throwing it to them too much. Anybody that can get open and catch, he's going to get some balls coming his way. That's why Weslye and Jared Cook are both getting their share of the balls. Hopefully we can find some young receivers to do the same thing: get open and catch the ball."

The return of Thompson to the starting lineup may be the least surprising move, since Thompson was expected to be a starter. For the second consecutive season, however, Thompson was suspended right before the first game. He has worked himself back to the top of the depth chart, though, and will have a chance to solidify his standing this weekend.

"He graded out above the two starters," Spurrier said. "He played about like always, but he did not have the glaring mistakes that maybe the other two had. His play was pretty decent, so he's earned the starting job at right guard."

The surprise is at the other guard spot, where Seaver Brown will start. Brown has not even been listed on the two-deep until this week. In fact, the depth chart given to reporters at the press conference did not even have Brown listed as the starter, so Spurrier had to instruct reporters to move Brown up on their charts.

"We're in the tryout stages right now," Spurrier said. "We'll give everybody a chance. Once they prove they can play pretty decently, they'll stay in there. We're seeing if somebody can play better than those guys. Same as all positions on offense and defense. We've got to find out if some other players can play better than those we've been putting out there. Seaver Brown tries to do it the way we coach it. He tries to take his steps and his position the way we coach it."

The man they will be trying to protect will be Smelley, who Spurrier named the starter immediately following the LSU game. Smelley had a solid second half, though Spurrier had a tough time getting himself excited about Smelley's performance.

"Chris Smelley is playing, and he's playing for simply one reason: to see if he can play better than the quarterback's been playing," Spurrier said. "[We are] trying to see if we can get a little bit better play out of the quarterback, and obviously we need a lot better play out of the offensive line, receivers. We thought he played a little bit better than Blake in that game, so we're going to give him a chance. We'll find out if Chris Smelley can play better. That blitz against Louisiana-Lafayette that knocked his helmet off, I'm hoping he learned from that one. Whether or not he can audible and pick out guys, I don't know. I haven't seen him do it. We'll find out if he can do it in a game."

Spurrier added that the book is not closed on the Blake Mitchell era. Mitchell will have his chance to regain the starting job, just like any other position. Given the way Spurrier explained the decision to start Smelley, one gets the impression the quarterback rotation could become ongoing. While that may not be ideal, Spurrier again scolded reporters who suggested you cannot have a good team without a clear-cut leader at quarterback, saying the goal is still to win the SEC Championship.

"It doesn't change at all," said Spurrier. "Last time I won a conference championship we played two quarterbacks. [At Florida] Rex Grossman and Jesse Palmer went back and forth in 2000. There's no certain prescription for winning a championship. Some people think you're supposed to stick with quarterbacks. I've never felt that way unless they can perform. Now if they perform at a high level, and they're your best player, that's the best you can hope for. We don't have that here. We're still searching to see if one guy can play better than the rest.

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