Spring Storylines: A New Day on the O-line?
It is no secret that offensive line coach John Hunt has been at the end of criticism from fans over the play of his offensive line units in the past few seasons. In Hunt's defense, he has had to battle problems with lack of depth, size, and talent at various times during the last three years. Despite those deficiencies, Hunt has managed to put together make-shift lines by the latter part of each of those seasons. While each of those lines was adequate, each also came way too late.
For the first time during his tenure at USC, Hunt has quantity and quality to work with in the spring. In the not-so-distant past the Gamecocks had to bring out the black jerseys at their spring game, just so some linemen could play for both squads and fill out the two-deep. USC returns four of five starters from the final game of last season, and with multiple players coming into their own behind the returning starters; Hunt will simply need to find the right guys in time for the season and sort them out into a quality two-deep. The talent is there.
It has been proven over the last three seasons, if there is one thing that can bring the famous Spurrier offense crashing to a halt, it is pressure on the quarterback. With SEC East rival Georgia rolling into Williams-Brice Stadium likely ranked as the No. 2 team in the country in the first month of the season, USC will need to be hitting on all cylinders by week three this time around.
Here is the offensive line depth chart recently released by USC:
LT 77 Jamon Meredith (6-5, 301, Sr.***)
-OR- 66 Hutch Eckerson (6-6, 291, So.*)
72 Quintin Richardson (6-4, 289, Fr.-RS)
75 Gurminder Thind (6-4, 281, Sr.**)
LG 63 Seaver Brown (6-5, 307, So.*)
64 Kevin Young (6-5, 311, So.)
62 Pierre Andrews (6-3, 281, So.)
C 70 Garrett Anderson (6-4, 307, Jr.**)
63 Seaver Brown (6-5, 307, So.*)
65 Ryan Broadhead (6-5, 270, Fr.-RS)
RG 74 Heath Batchelor (6-7, 308, So.*)
57 Lemuel Jeanpierre (6-3, 293, Jr.**)
60 Terrence Campbell (6-3, 285, So.)
RT 78 Justin Sorensen (6-7, 327, Sr.**)
68 Kyle Nunn (6-6, 300, Fr.-RS)
USC returns its two starting tackles from a season ago, but the situation there is not as simple as what meets the eye. At left tackle Jamon Meredith is the most experienced player on the o-line, having started 29 games in the last three seasons. The big left tackle will have to miss the first two games of the season due to a decision made by the NCAA when they granted Meredith another year of eligibility. The Gamecocks will have to have a plan in order this fall as to who will start at left tackle until Meredith returns for the UGA game.
It appears if the season started today, then Hutch Eckerson would get the nod as starter. The redshirt sophomore was forced into action as a true freshman, but has had a productive offseason after redshirting in ‘07. Redshirt freshman Quintin Richardson may be the most athletic o-lineman on USC's roster, and while inexperienced, he's also expected to contend at left tackle.
Opposite Meredith, last year's starter Justin Sorenson returns for his final season. After a successful finish to the 2006 campaign, the mammoth Canadian was never able to regain his late-season form during 2007. Sorenson will be pushed by the other linemen on the team and needs a big spring to keep his spot in the starting line up. If Eckerson or Richardson perform extremely well filling in for Meredith at left tackle then they could make the move to right tackle in week three moving Sorenson to second on the depth chart and giving the Gamecocks a capable, experienced back-up.
Another possibility is if two guards other than Heath Batchelor can step up and win spots, then the Alabama native could move back to right tackle (where he started his college career). Considered an afterthought at the beginning of last year due to being raw and having academic trouble the season before, Batchelor showed his grit and versatility playing well at right guard late in the season.
Gurminder Thind has battled injuries during his entire collegiate career, but gives the Gamecocks an experienced back-up who has played inside and at tackle. Kyle Nunn has gained good weight and has the talent to be a capable starter down the road, but he's likely still a year away.
At guard the Gamecocks have plenty of capable bodies, but it's hard to tell who will shake out where. As mentioned above, Batchelor is solid at right guard and will be tough to unseat. The rising sophomore will likely be a starter somewhere, with the only question being whether it's at right guard or right tackle. Lemuel Jeanpierre and Terrence Campbell are both strong, converted defensive linemen who the Gamecocks are counting on this season. Jeanpierre is one of the hardest workers on the team and with a year under his belt on offense could push for a starting job. Campbell has also had a very strong offseason and could be the dark horse to emerge as a starter. The rising redshirt sophomore is one of the most athletic and hard nosed players on the Gamecocks' interior line.
While Seaver Brown is listed as the starter at left guard, if any of the guys listed at right guard impress then a move to left guard is a real possibility for them. Brown is a heady player and knows his assignments well, but proved last year he may not quite be ready for life in the SEC. The best thing that could happen for USC is if multiple guys shine in the interior, allowing Brown to concentrate on playing center, giving the Gamecocks a capable, experienced back-up there.
Kevin Young, who has battled nagging injuries throughout his first two years in Columbia, has not progressed like many expected thus far, but it may not have been fair to have such high expectations for the Florida native so early in his career. Young had offers from Florida, Miami, Florida State, Auburn, Oklahoma, and West Virginia out of high school and has all the physical talent to be a quality starter. He just needs to put it all together on the field. If Young looks at his recent legal situation as a new beginning then the big guard could contend for a starting job going into the fall.
Pierre Andrews was brought in as a center, but now finds himself on the depth chart at guard. The former Independence High School star is probably a year away from contributing.
If the coaches do not see what they want at guard then tackles Quintin Richardson or Gurminder Thind could make the move inside. Richardson is a sure-fire, natural tackle, but has the athletic ability to play anywhere on the line and could probably even play tight end. When healthy Thind is one of the better pass blockers on the team and has experience at left guard.
At center USC is looking for a breakout season from junior Garrett Anderson. The former Dutch Fork standout proved he has NFL-type measurables during the recent team testings and has become a leader during the offseason. Anderson was simply forced into action too early in his career and is now poised to become the player the USC coaches know he can be.
As mentioned above, Seaver Brown can be a capable back-up at center if USC can find the depth at guard to allow him to concentrate on one position. Ryan Broadhead is a team player and hard worker, but will probably need another year or two in the strength program to become an SEC lineman.
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