Monday practice report

So far this spring, the Gamecocks have practiced in heat and cold, and on Monday night they added rain to the dossier. Fortunately, the precipitation was limited to a drizzle for most of the evening, so aside from a few slips here and there, weather did not impact practice. Steve Spurrier even went so far as to call the weather "very good."


While the weather drew praise, the same could not be said for the Gamecocks. The entire team had to run wind sprints after practice because the coaches were not satisfied with the effort put forth.

"It was just some loafs, some mistakes, things like that," Spurrier explained when asked why the players had to run.

There was no such problem with Saturday's scrimmage, although it obviously did not carry over to the practice session. As he has done after almost every scrimmage he has presided over, Spurrier revised his initially harsh comments about the scrimmage. Monday night he said watching the film he saw some positives.

"It wasn't too bad, it wasn't too good," he said. "It was a start; we have a lot of stuff to work on. It's all practice right now, trying to get better, and hopefully it will show up during the season."

One of the few bright spots from the scrimmage got brighter Monday night. Tight ends Jared Cook and Weslye Saunders combined for all three of the touchdowns scored in the scrimmage, but Spurrier was concerned that sometimes the pair would "forget" to block. When they got back to practice, Cook and Saunders remembered to block, although they are not yet ready to be confused with a bruising blocker like the departed Andy Boyd.

"[Weslye] and Jared were not that good in the scrimmage blocking," Spurrier said, "but they're trying in practice. I think they are giving more effort."

Another player who impressed with his effort in practice was freshman running back Eric Baker. With the departure of the team's leading rusher Cory Boyd and starter Mike Davis suspended for a game, there is room on the depth chart for another rusher. Baker has been battling with sophomore Brian Maddox for the backup spot, and has impressed the coaches enough that he could be counted on to get some carries this fall.

"Eric made some nice cuts tonight," said Spurrier. "He's learning our offense and we think he's really going to be a good one. Running backs you don't know if two or three might get hurt, [so] Eric Baker could play a lot."

One factor that could help Baker see the field is the uncertain status of junior running back Bobby Wallace. Wallace, defensive back Chris Hail, and linebacker Dustin Lindsey all skipped practice to focus on academics. The trio will still be allowed to practice with the team on the weekend, but during the week they spend practice time in study hall.

"Those guys that are on the bubble, there is no sense in them practicing if they aren't going to be here next year," Spurrier explained. "We're trying to ensure that they'll be here. They'll practice on the weekends. They are weekend spring practice players now."


Beecher battling for starting job

With the suspension of freshman Stephen Garcia, the quarterback battle is now a two man race. Sophomore Chris Smelley started six games last season, making him the favorite to win the job this spring. However, junior Tommy Beecher is not giving up without a fight. He spoke with Gamecock Anthem following the scrimmage on Saturday.

Beecher arrived in Columbia as part of Spurrier's first recruiting class, meaning he has worked with the Head Ball Coach longer than Smelley. He only threw passes in three games last season, though, so Smelley has the advantage in playing time.

"His experience gives him an advantage; he knows the playbook," Beecher said. "I've just got to keep my head in the playbook and know where everyone's going to be at."

The scrimmage marked Beecher's first chance to show off that knowledge, but he failed to put up impressive numbers, going just 8-20 for 91 yards. He did add a touchdown pass to Weslye Saunders, who, along with fellow tight end Jared Cook, has quickly become one of Beecher's favorite targets this spring.

"Weslye and Jared have improved every day," Beecher said. "They keep getting better. They're great big targets to throw at, and they usually come down with it."

In addition to the touchdown toss, Beecher also threw the longest pass of the day, a 30-yard bomb to redshirt freshman Jason Barnes. Barnes is part of a young, unproven receiving corps that is trying to establish a relationship with the quarterbacks this spring. With Kenny McKinley sidelined with an injury, and returning starting Dion Lecorn seeing limited reps, Beecher said it is important for the rest of the receivers to get ready to play in the fall.

"It's good to get these young guys out here in these scrimmages and accustomed to playing," he said. "We have a lot of them rotating in there. They don't get many balls, but when they do it's important that they take advantage of it. I'm impressed by them. They're fast big and strong."

Although he lacks much playing experience, Beecher has enough savvy to know who looks out for him. Although the offensive line struggled in the scrimmage and was called out by Spurrier, Beecher was singing the praises of the guys up front.

"They'll keep getting better and better as the spring goes on," he said. "They weren't terrible by any means. We had plenty of time to throw the ball around on most of the plays."

As far as overall performance of the offense, Beecher was less effusive. He referred to the team as "a little shaky," and said they have to work on their consistency.

"It was the first scrimmage, so that was to be expected," said Beecher. "We'll get more consistent as the spring goes on. The defense usually comes out here and has things together pretty well."


Notes:

- Jay Spearman missed practice with an injured left shoulder. Jamire Williams sat out with an injured left ankle.

- Spurrier said that there is a possibility the Gamecocks could lose "one or two" scholarships under APR guidelines. He indicated that whether Carolina loses scholarships may depend on the performance of the aforementioned "weekend players:" Haile, Lindsey, and Wallace.

- Carolina will practice again Wednesday night at 7. There will be a practice on Friday followed by the second scrimmage of the spring on Sunday.


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