Quarterbacks vow to rebound in the fall

Heading into the Garnet and Black Spring Game, most of the attention was on quarterbacks Chris Smelley and Tommy Beecher, and for good reason. With the other players switching teams freely, the game was set up to compare the quarterbacks. By the time it ended, and after both quarterbacks struggled, Steve Spurrier was no closer to finding a starter than he was four weeks ago when practice began.


The numbers tell the story. Both quarterbacks failed to complete as much as half his passes, and there were a combined eight interceptions. Smelley was 13-30 for 219 yards, with 3 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. Beecher was 9-20 for 131 yards, with a touchdown and 3 interceptions. In his disastrous first half, Smelley had almost as many interceptions (5) as completions (7), and three of those completions came on the final drive of the half, when he finally led a scoring drive.

"It's not N.C. State, it's not a real game," Smelley said thankfully, adding that his injured throwing shoulder feels fine. "I felt like I played real well this spring and it just didn't go well for me out there today. I hadn't had five interceptions all spring practice. It's definitely not showing what I've done this spring and what kind of quarterback I am."

Beecher played better than Smelly, leading four scoring drives, but was not without faults of his own. His 3 interceptions came on 10 fewer pass attempts than Smelley, and one was returned 82 yards for a touchdown.

"I thought I played pretty well," Beecher said optimistically. "We moved the offense up and down the field; there were just some mistakes that were made.

The poor showing did not seem to bother Spurrier much. He joked after the game that surely he could now claim the Carolina record for most interceptions in a spring game. He also noted that since he got to Columbia, the Gamecocks have yet to put up big numbers in the spring, pointing out that last year Blake Mitchell did not look much better than Smelley or Beecher in this year's contest.

"We were in here last year when Blake Mitchell hit 13-39," he said. "This ain't bad compared to last year."

With Stephen Garcia suspended until the fall, the quarterback battle became a two man race. Smelley and Beecher were neck and neck throughout the spring, and that led to the notion that whoever won the spring game would be able to go into the summer as next season's starter.

"It's going to be who can perform in the fall," Smelley said. "I would have liked to come out of the spring with everyone singing my praises [as the starter]. That's what you hope as a quarterback, but that's not always how it happens."

Spurrier seemed to have a different idea, though, showing no rush to make an announcement. Throughout spring practice, he refused to give either player the edge. When the spring game awards were announced, the award for Most Improved Quarterback was given jointly to both Smelley and Beecher. As he analyzed the performances of his signal callers Saturday afternoon, Spurrier noted that the spring game is really just another practice, and then said he expects big strides to be made over the summer.

"We're not going to name one," said Spurrier. "I thought maybe we would after the spring, but I don't think that's what we need to do right now. We need to go through pre-season practice."

Spurrier went on to say that he expects the pair to work hard over the summer. Coaches are not allowed to work with players during the summer, which led Spurrier to question whether either player would show the work ethic to put in the time required to improve.

"I have found through all my years of coaching that some quarterbacks really get better all summer," he said. "They've got three months to see if they can understand the game and make good quick decisions. They've got to do it on their own. We can give them a piece of paper and say, ‘Here's what I'd like for you to do,' but I don't know how much they do. At some point one of the quarterbacks has to show a really strong commitment to really want to be good. I don't think any quarterback that we have here now knows what really playing well is all about."

That message was not lost on either quarterback. Both Smelley and Beecher realize they need to make some major strides over the summer if they are to win Spurrier's confidence.

"We're going to do a lot of work, getting with the receivers and defensive backs and going 7-on-7," said Beecher. "[We have to] get faster and get stronger and know all our assignments. I know we can all work harder, and that's what we're going to do this summer."


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