Spring storylines: Young receivers to emerge?

When USC kicks off the fourth spring practice of the Steve Spurrier era next Wednesday there will be several interesting storylines worth watching for the Gamecocks. With a bevy of young talent at the wide receiver position and spots up for grabs on the two-deep, the competition at receiver will be fierce.

Here is the pre-spring depth chart at wide receiver released by USC this week:

WR 11 Kenny McKinley (6-0, 182, Sr.***)

8 Larry Freeman (6-1, 223, Sr.*)

15 Matt Clements (6-0, 190, Fr.-RS)

81 Paul Haile (6-0, 204, So.)

WR 18 Dion Lecorn (5-11, 220, So.*)

82 Freddie Brown (6-3, 209, Jr.**)

17 Chris Culliver (6-0, 191, So.*)

27 C.C. Whitlock (5-10, 171, Fr.)

WR 9 Moe Brown (6-0, 186, Jr.**)

85 Joe Hills (6-4, 202, Fr.-RS)

4 Jason Barnes (6-4, 201, Fr.-RS)

13 Mark Barnes (6-2, 200, Fr.-RS)

83 Scott Spurrier (5-4, 168, Jr.)

*–Indicates Letters Won

The first thing to note looking at the depth chart is that while Kenny McKinley is listed as a starter and is no doubt the team's No. 1 receiver at this point in time, the rising senior receiver is not expected to take part in spring practice. McKinley has, however, taken it upon himself to be a leader and plans to be at practice helping the younger receivers learn the playbook, their routes, and the wide receiver position in general.

The 6'0", 182 pound All-SEC receiver is still slowed from offseason toe surgery, but should be back to 100% by the start of the Gamecocks' 2008 season. McKinley knows the offense extremely well and it will not hurt him to miss one spring. The playmaking receiver's absence will give some of the younger receivers a chance to step up and show what they can do.

One negative to McKinley not being available is with a quarterback battle brewing, McKinley will not get the chance to begin developing chemistry with the quarterbacks. While McKinley has worked with quarterback Chris Smelley in the past, if redshirt freshman Stephen Garcia wins the job, then the Gamecocks' No. 1 QB and No. 1 WR will enter fall practice having worked very little together.

USC may also be without a second starting receiver as Dion Lecorn is still suspended from team activities after being arrested recently. After a slow start during his freshman season, Lecorn had a strong second half of the year finishing it with 27 catches for 315 yards. Despite the legal trouble, and even if Lecorn misses some or all of the spring, the rising sophomore seems to have a strong understanding of the offense and will be a big part of it next year. The suspension should serve as an eye-opener for Lecorn, and if he stays out of trouble could be looked back on as a mere bump in the road for the talented receiver.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about the depth chart is that rising junior Moe Brown is listed as the third starter. After showing some potential in his freshman year, Brown struggled early during the 2007 season misjudging deep balls and dropping passes. Brown got back to the basics late in the year and had a solid finish. An afterthought by some, Brown is one of few bona fide speedsters on the USC offense and always seems to get open. The junior receiver could really surprise this spring and solidify a spot on the two-deep if he catches passes consistently.

The most hyped young receiver entering this spring is the 6'4", 202 pound Joe Hills. Hills wowed onlookers and coaches alike last fall with his acrobatic catches and ability to go up and snatch the football at its highest point. However, the dynamic athlete injured his knee early in fall practice catching a deep pass for touchdown and was held out for all but two plays during the year. Much like former USC star Sidney Rice, Hills was forced to redshirt, but is poised to burst onto the scene during his redshirt freshman season. Hills is similar to Rice in other ways too and is adept at using his big, athletic frame to shield off defenders and secure the football. With the proven receivers the Gamecocks already have, if Hills can even come close to the hype he has garnered during the offseason, then the Gamecock offense could be extremely dangerous.

Another tall, athletic receiver is the 6'4", 201 pound Jason Barnes. Barnes played in the dynamic Independence High School offense and quickly impressed at USC during summer passing drills and early in fall practice. Barnes seemed to hit a wall, though, and received his only start of the season at LSU before the coaches decided to apply for a medical waiver and redshirt him. While the hype for Barnes has died down, he still has the potential to be a great receiver and has all the tools to garner plenty of playing time in the SEC.

Rising sophomore receiver Chris Culliver has quickly reached a pivotal time in his Gamecock career. The North Carolina native recently timed in at 4.35 seconds in the forty yard dash and is too athletic not to be on the field somewhere. Culliver will need to show he has made progress in becoming an all-around receiver this spring, or he may be moved to the depth-deprived safety position. Culliver showed his game-breaking ability with the ball in his hands on three end-arounds early last season, but failed to catch a pass all year.

A less talked about speedster is redshirt freshman Matt Clements. The Naples, FL native showed some signs of potential early last fall, but the coaches eventually decided a redshirt season was in order. Clements will have to battle his way out of the proverbial coach's doghouse as he is currently suspended from team activities.

Former Richland Northeast star Mark Barnes will start the spring on offense, as well. Many believed the two-way standout would find his way to the opposite side of the ball this year, but a nagging shoulder injury has kept that transition from being made. Barnes is a natural athlete and runs precise routes. While not a speed demon, Barnes has excellent hands and could surprise this spring.

Former four-star prep cornerback and January enrolle C.C. Whitlock will get his start, as promised, on offense this spring. Whitlock enrolled early from Chester High School and is the type of game-breaking receiver Spurrier was famous for having at Florida. While Whitlock's future may be on defense, if he can learn the offense early he may be too good to keep off the field.

Rounding out the scholarship receivers are upperclassmen Larry Freeman and Freddie Brown. Freeman transferred to USC a season ago from Pearl River Community College, but struggled somewhat with consistency. Brown saw his playing time diminish last season with the emergence of Lecorn, but is a consistent receiver who has a knack for finding the gaps against zone coverage. Both can be solid contributors this season.

South Carolina enters its fourth spring practice under Spurrier with the most depth it has had at receiver under Spurrier. While much of that depth is young, McKinley, Lecorn, and F. Brown are proven commodities and if just one or two guys can step up, the coaches will have to exit the spring feeling pretty good about the depth chart.

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