Practice report: Gamecocks open spring drills
Carolina practiced in helmets and shorts Friday, and contact was limited as players were instructed not to knock anybody down. These restrictions make it difficult to evaluate how prepared the players are for game action, but it is still valuable learning time for a team breaking in new defensive and special teams coordinators, Ellis Johnson and Ray Rychleski, respectively.
"We've got some new coaches," said Steve Spurrier, "and if you watch practice you'll notice we have a new routine, with a lot of special teams work. We're not happy with the way we performed last year, [so] we need to play better and coach better."
On the first day of practice, the most notable change on defense was in the form of Eric Norwood. An All-Conference performer at defensive end last season, Norwood begins the spring at linebacker, with former linebacker Cliff Matthews moving up to take Norwood's old spot. Playing linebacker is not totally new for Norwood. In former coordinator Tyrone Nix's defense, Norwood would often play standing up from his end position, rather than with his hand on the ground. What will be new, however, is Norwood being called on to play in pass coverage.
"I think it will be a real good position for Eric," said Spurrier. "I think he's better standing up. Rushing the passer is obviously what he does very well, but he can cover some guys if need be."
Probably the best news on defense from the first day of practice was that Jasper Brinkley participated in most of the drills. Coming off a serious knee injury suffered against LSU last season, Brinkley was not expected to do much this spring, but there he was on the first day of practice.
"He won't practice a lot when we start scrimmaging or falling on legs," Spurrier said. "He won't do a lot of the contact stuff at all."
Of course, most of the attention this spring is not on defense, but on the quarterback battle. With the graduation of Blake Mitchell, who was the starter at the beginning and end of Spurrier's first three seasons, there is no clear favorite to be the starting quarterback this season. Junior Tommy Beecher has the most time in Spurrier's system, sophomore Chris Smelley has the most playing experience, and freshman Stephen Garcia has the most hype. On the first day, Spurrier was careful not to give any of the three the edge.
"I thought Beecher maybe threw the ball a little bit sharper," he said. "Chris Smelley still has a little bit of a sore shoulder. He had some surgery in January, but he wasn't too bad. Stephen threw a few good ones here and there, but he needs to work on his timing. He's coming along. They all did some good things."
Spurrier did say that Smelley is still struggling with a shoulder injury he suffered in the season opener last season. Smelley recently had surgery on his right shoulder, and there is some lingering pain.
Another question mark is the offensive line, which has been a weak spot during Spurrier's tenure. Spurrier has said he will take a more active role in coaching the offensive lines, but until they get in pads, there is not much that can be learned about line play.
"Obviously our line hasn't played all that well, we all know that," he said. "Coach Hunt is working as hard as he can to get them to play. We've just got to coach the heck out of them. We've got some players who can play; big strong guys. Jamon Meredith ought to be an all-conference player this year if he'll play with great effort. We've just got to get it out of them."
Asked who did stand out, Spurrier mentioned a pair of freshmen. Defensive back Akeem Auguste had three interceptions during team drills, and wide receiver C. C. Whitlock showed good explosion in his pass patterns.
"The two number 3s out here, they can fly," Spurrier said. "Those are two quick, fast freshmen.
- Garcia practiced Friday despite the fact that he has to sit out one day of spring practice for poor class attendance. Spurrier said that Garcia will sit out one of the practice sessions next week, and added that there may be "a couple" of other players that may sit out.
- Dion Lecorn, who was arrested for marijuana possession on February 17, practiced, as did Matt Clements, who was in the car with Lecorn at the time of the arrest but was not charged.
- Walk-on Mike Newton, who was arrested in Five Points last weekend, has not been cleared to return.
- Defensive back Carlos Thomas, who was suspended for an undisclosed violation of team rules, also did not practice, but should return next week.
- Captain Munnerlyn (foot), Gurminder Thind (back), Nathan Pepper (knee), Nick Prochak (leg), Kenny McKinley (toe), Dustin Lindsey (knee), and Marvin Sapp (hernia) all sat out practice with injuries. Lindsey has also been moved from linebacker to tight end.
- Running back Mike Davis will have to sit out one game this fall for missing class. Spurrier said earlier Davis would sit out the UAB game, but he backed off that, saying only that it would be a yet to be determined non-conference game.
- The Gamecocks will practice again Saturday morning at 10 AM.
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