Coaches discuss first scrimmage

The Gamecocks participated in their first scrimmage of the spring Saturday morning at Williams-Brice Stadium. Read inside as USC coaches Steve Spurrier and Ellis Johnson discuss what they saw in Saturday's scrimmage.


Carolina took the field at 10 a.m. and practiced for about 40 minutes before scrimmaging for nearly an hour and a half. The scrimmage featured matchups between the first team offense and defense, as well as the second and third team offense and defense, and first and second team punt and field goal units. Quarterbacks threw three touchdown passes, and Ryan Succop kicked three field goals for the scoring on the day. Despite the positives, Steve Spurrier was not very excited about the scrimmage.

"It was pretty helter skelter offensively," he said. "The defensive line seemed to get the best of the O line. Overall it was pretty ragged."

The main target of Spurrier's ire was, as usual, the offensive line. The line struggled to open up running room for the running backs, and struggled even more to protect the passer. In particular, with first team center Garrett Anderson sitting out with a back injury, backup center Ryan Broadhead struggled snapping the football.

"We've got a lot to work on as far as running the ball and pass protection," Spurrier said succinctly. "It's about how it's been going in practice. It wasn't anything unusual. We're just trying to get them to compete and play their assignments. I think we've got enough talent in the o-line to play pretty well, but we just haven't gotten it out of them yet."

One reason for the struggles may have been that starting left tackle Jamon Meredith did not practice with the first team. Meredith will have to sit out the first two games of the season in exchange for games played during his redshirt season. As a result, the Gamecocks are trying to get used to playing without him now.

"We're trying to get those other guys ready," Spurrier explained.

Chris Smelley and Tommy Beecher took all the snaps at quarterback for Carolina. Smelley had the better day, going 15 -26 for 184 yards and two touchdowns to Jared Cook. Beecher went 8-20 for 91 yards and a touchdown pass to Weslye Saunders. Spurrier was fairly measured in his analysis of the pair.

"They did okay, nothing real special," he said. "They both had some good moments."

With all three touchdowns going to tight ends, it was a good day receiving for that unit. Saunders finished with 4 catches for 49 yards, and Cook had 3 catches for 26 yards. The receiving numbers are encouraging, especially out of a position that was virtually ignored at Carolina for years. However, Spurrier noted that playing tight end is about more than running around catching passes.

"They're some of our best receivers," said Spurrier. "They need to block also, though. Sometimes they forget that. Our blocking is not very good anyway right now."


Defense still has room to improve

If Spurrier is disappointed in the offense, it would make since that defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson would be pleased. Following the scrimmage, though, that was not the case.

"I wasn't displeased with today," Johnson said, "but I don't think it's anything to write home about. Without seeing the film, I'd give us a B-. There were some things that we did well out there that I thought we wouldn't do, but there were some things that we spent a lot of time out that I thought weren't very good. We've got to get back to the drawing board and get back on the field and get to work."

When asked if any players stood out, Johnson avoided having to answer by pleading ignorance.

"I just learned names, and I haven't learned a lot of numbers," he said. "I didn't really see anybody that just jumped out at me. I saw a couple linebackers make some decent tackles, and then I saw them in the wrong place."

Johnson noted similar inconsistencies in the defensive line and secondary. He said the line was able to get good pressure on the quarterback, but too many times rushers ran themselves out of the play. The secondary had good coverage, but committed too many penalties for his liking. He noted though, that spring practice is more about evaluating individuals than offense versus defense.

"I think people make way too much out of spring ball," he said. "We're evaluating players. You don't want to get the word ‘individual' in the game of football too much, but right now we're trying to identify players. We're just trying to see how players perform. We've got some talent, and yet we don't have a lot of confidence."

The main thing Johnson is looking at from his players is effort. He has made the defense run after practice this week as a way of emphasizing good effort. Johnson indicated that poor effort was the reason the Gamecocks ended last season on a five game losing streak. With an eye toward increasing the effort level, Gamecock defenders are being lectured on "loafing."

"We're trying to make a big deal out of that," said Johnson. "That's our terminology for not finishing a play. We don't need quitters out here. What we're trying to make a big, big emphasis on is finish every play, finish every series, finish every quarter. Everything builds up, so you can finish every game and finish the season without having any let ups. One of the most important things we do this spring is develop an attitude and get some confidence."


Notes:

- Running back Mike Davis sat out the scrimmage with a hamstring injury. He will likely sit out for another week to let it heal. There were no injuries to report from the scrimmage.

- Spencer Lanning did all the punting during the scrimmage. Spurrier indicated Lanning may be the starter in the fall, but he has not won the job outright.

- In other special teams news, wide receiver Larry Freeman blocked a punt.


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