Practice report: Garcia's fate up in the air

The Gamecocks began the second week of spring practice in chilly conditions Monday night, but the story of the day had nothing to do with what happened on the field, where Carolina broke out pads for the first time. The throng of reporters that crowded around Steve Spurrier after practice wanted to know about the status of redshirt freshman quarterback Stephen Garcia.


Garcia, who was arrested twice last spring before being suspended from spring practice, was once again in trouble with the law when he was ticketed for underage drinking Saturday. Garcia has already paid the $257.50 fine for that violation. Later that night, he was involved in an incident when he discharged a fire extinguisher. Garcia said he used the fire extinguisher when he saw sparks coming from his stove. Garcia has not been charged in that incident. Garcia was already scheduled to miss practice Monday to fulfill a suspension for full class attendance. Spurrier said that Garcia must be reinstated by the University if he is to return to the team, and there is no timetable for that decision.

"Stephen Garcia's fate is in the hands of the University of South Carolina," Spurrier said flatly. "He may be out here or he may not be out here, we'll just have to wait and see."

Pressed on what he thought would happen, Spurrier again absolved himself of any authority, adding that he fully supports whatever decision is made.

"If they say he's here, he'll be here," he said. "His fate is out of my hands, let's put it that way. I'll accept whatever they say (about Garcia). He's had a lot of chances here and we'll see what happens."

Spurrier refused to answer when asked if he wanted Garcia to return to the team. He was likely taking the diplomatic route in case Garcia is not allowed to return, not wanting to create discord with the administration.

"If they say he's back, we'll bring him back," Spurrier said equivocally. "If the university allows him to be here, we'll give him another shot."

Following another question about Garcia, Spurrier changed the subject, making a point to praise Tommy Beecher and Chris Smelley, the other two quarterbacks, for staying out of trouble.

"I'm not worried about him; we've got Tommy Beecher and Chris Smelley and we know they're going to always be here," said Spurrier. "They do everything we ask, they're wonderful kids, and they can throw the ball. They can play. We'll worry about Stephen if he comes back out here. Chris Smelley and Tommy Beecher had some real good throws here tonight. Those two guys are very capable of leading our team next year."

As far as what happened on the field Monday night, the big news was in the secondary. After wide receiver Chris Culliver switched to safety on Saturday, fellow wideout Mark Barnes made the switch Monday.

"Mark Barnes wanted to go to safety," Spurrier said. "He wasn't getting a lot of snaps over there on offense, so he went over there."

Joining Barnes in the defensive backfield was corner Carlos Thomas. Thomas was suspended from the first two practices for a violation of team rules, essentially a bad attitude. Spurrier said he thinks the suspension got Thomas' attention, and has him back focused on the team.

"I hope so," he said. "His attitude has been much improved since he had his behavior problem. Carlos is a little bigger than he used to be. Hopefully he will play more physical, and play a lot better this coming season."

The first night in pads allowed for more physical work, so Carolina opened the session with the Oklahoma drill. In that drill, a defender and a blocker go head to head while a ball carrier tries to get around the defender. There were some big hits, and the drill always gets the players excited. Later, the team participated in 7 on 7 drills. In those drills, which Spurrier called "encouraging," the tight ends stood out, especially sophomore Weslye Saunders.

"Weslye Saunders, golly, if we were giving a practice ball Weslye Saunders would have gotten it tonight," said Spurrier. "He caught everything."


Maddox ready to take on bigger role

The first night in pads meant it was the first time the running backs got an opportunity to play full speed. With the departure of senior Cory Boyd, there is a vacancy in the backfield. Junior Mike Davis is expected to take over the starting role, but the backup spot is up for grabs, especially with Davis having to sit out a game for missing class. Sophomore Brian Maddox is competing for that role, and he spoke about it Monday night.

"I'm looking at this spring as I have a lot of good opportunities ahead of me," Maddox said. "I talk to my dad every morning and every night, and he tells me to come out and work hard and just work on my game."

Maddox played sparingly as a freshman, rushing just 6 times for 14 yards and playing mostly on special teams. For a star recruit who spent last summer appearing on an ESPN reality show, sitting on the sidelines was quite a change. Maddox acknowledges that it was an adjustment, but notes that he has sat on the bench before.

"It was real hard, knowing that I had to sit back and watch a little bit," he said, "but I did that in ninth grade when I was behind Rafael Little, the Kentucky running back. Coach Parker, my high school coach at T.L. Hanna, he prepared me well for college football [and having to wait]."

Similar to the departed Boyd, Maddox is a solid receiving threat out of the backfield. Monday night, Maddox frequently lined up split out, and had several passes thrown his way. Even though he probably will not be called on to do as much in the passing game this fall, Maddox still likes the way Spurrier involves running backs in the passing game.

"He gets us in the passing offense a lot," Maddox said. "When we get a chance to catch it, it's always a good time. I like getting out and getting into the routes."

While Maddox was doing his interview, fellow sophomore Chris Culliver was standing nearby, and Maddox was wasting no chances to talk a little trash about the receiver turned safety. When asked how it felt getting out in pads again, Maddox said, "It was real exciting, we hadn't done this in a while, since fall. You saw how I ran this kid over a little bit, Chris Culliver." Maddox then repeated Culliver's name to make sure it got on tape.

Despite his easy going attitude and lack of experience, Maddox is all business when he gets on the field, and is already asserting himself as a leader. Maddox brushed off this reporter's attempt to make a little small talk about the weather.

"As a running back group we didn't look that good overall," he said, changing the subject, "but we'll bounce back Wednesday."


Notes:

- Mike Newton, who was arrested in Five Points last weekend, returned to practice.

- Quarterback Zac Brindise and offensive lineman Heath Batchelor, who were ticketed for underage drinking along with Garcia, both practiced.

- Former Gamecocks Cory Boyd and Casper Brinkley both watched practice. Boyd was wearing his NFL Combine sweatshirt.

- The Gamecocks will practice again Wednesday night at 7 PM.


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