Spring wrap-up: Offensive tackle
One of the biggest surprises of the spring was the strong play of left tackle Hutch Eckerson. Eckerson signed with the Gamecocks in the 2006 class as a three-star o-lineman according to Scout.com as part of a large, highly-rated offensive line class. Due to a severe lack of depth along the line, the Lumberton, NC native was thrown into the fire as a freshman and showed some potential before seemingly hitting a wall. Needing to gain strength, Eckerson was fortunate enough to take a redshirt last year as a sophomore and used that time to get bigger and stronger.
The hard work has paid off in a big way for the 6'6", 291-pounder as he exited the spring as the clear starter at left tackle, solidifying a spot that was a big question mark coming in. While Eckerson still needs to have a solid winter conditioning program to get even stronger and allow him to deal with some of the bigger defensive ends in the SEC, his good footwork, long arms, and quickness should allow him to keep the quicker rush ends he will have to deal with out in front of him. Eckerson's efforts led to him being named the Most Improved Offensive Lineman on the team at the conclusion of spring practice.
While senior Jamon Meredith is stronger and more experienced than Eckerson, Eckerson's skill set is actually better suited for the left tackle spot. Eckerson stepping up this spring will in all likelihood allow Meredith to move to right tackle after sitting out the first two games as determined by the NCAA. If Eckerson plays those first two contests the way the coaching staff thinks he can, then Meredith will likely come back and start opposite him.
Meredith started out his career at right tackle, but was given a game ball after a 2006 win at Vanderbilt when he switched to the left side after halftime. He has started the last 18 games there. The veteran 6'5", 301-pounder has started 29 career games, second to only Kenny McKinley. As one of the strongest players on the team, Meredith should have all the experience and strength needed to battle with the big strongside ends he will often face week after week in the SEC, and won't have to worry as often about the pure pass rushers that sometimes gave him trouble. Meredith is also an extremely intelligent player and was given The Harold White GPA Award on offense at the end of the spring.
Mammoth returning starter Justin Sorenson is the current first stringer at right tackle and has made 18 consecutive starts there. The 6'7", 327 pound redshirt senior is one of the strongest players on the team and one of the best run blockers as well. The former Ballenas High School (Vancouver Island, B.C., Canada) standout will start the first two games, but will likely have to battle to keep his spot once Meredith returns to the lineup the week of the Georgia game. Sorenson struggles at times with quicker rushers, but if he can get engaged with a defensive lineman, rarely do they escape his massive grasp. Sorenson was selected by the hometown BC Lions as the fifth overall pick in the Canadian Football League Draft on April 30. Sorenson will wait out trying his hand at the CFL by finishing up his USC playing career.
Pushing Sorenson all spring was redshirt freshman Kyle Nunn. The former Sumter Gamecock chose the South Carolina Gamecocks over offers from NC State, Virginia Tech, UNC, and NC State and was ranked the no. 62 offensive tackle prospect in the country according to Scout.com. Nunn redshirted his freshman year, using that time to get up to 300 pounds, and at 6'6" he has ideal SEC tackle size. Nunn worked as the second string right tackle all spring, and showed potential there. While he is likely a year away from really contributing due to the more experienced Sorenson and Meredith ahead of him, Nunn has a bright future ahead of himself.
Another young tackle battling with more experienced players ahead of him is Quintin Richardson. Richardson worked as the backup left tackle all spring and showed why he was regarded as a high four-star prospect coming out of high school in 2007. Richardson chose the Gamecocks over offers from Clemson, Auburn, Tennessee, UNC, NC State, and VT. Richardson may be the most athletic offensive lineman on the team and could realistically play any position on the line and even some tight end in certain situations.
The former Spring Valley High School standout is the type of player who may have been forced into action too early in previous years at South Carolina, but in the long run will benefit from coming along slowly. At 6'4", 289 pounds Richardson may lack ideal NFL left tackle height, but is plenty big enough and has all the potential to be a future All-SEC left tackle. The best thing for Richardson will be to get some playing time as a reserve this year, and then compete for a starting job next year and possibly be a three-year starter.
6'6", 275 pound Etowah High School tackle Elliott Williams will join the Gamecocks this summer, but will redshirt in the fall. Williams is a raw technician, but has a huge frame and good athleticism. Williams chose the Gamecocks over offers from Auburn, Marshall, Clemson, Mississippi, and Mississippi State.
Callaway High School star lineman Ronald Byrd will likely start out on the d-line, but could eventually move to the offensive side. Byrd chose USC over programs like Purdue, Auburn, Arkansas, Mississippi, Indiana, and Louisville.
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