Spring wrap-up: Interior O-line
First string right guard Heath Batchelor was the most consistent of the interior linemen this spring, showing why the offensive line seemed to improve drastically when he was inserted into the lineup late last season. At 6'7", 308 pounds, Batchelor is an imposing force on the inside whose pure brute force made him one of the better performing offensive linemen on the entire team this spring.
Batchelor was not extremely highly recruited out of high school, but did have a late offer from Auburn to go along with offers from Georgia Tech and Troy. The Haleyville, Ala. native was big and raw out of high school and can still improve technically, but has developed his footwork quickly under offensive line coach John Hunt.
While Batchelor started out at right tackle and some though he could move back there this year, he has solidified the right guard spot to the point he will likely stay there and could be a three-year starter. The redshirt sophomore road-grader brings a mean streak to the position that has been lacking in some of the USC offensive linemen over the past few seasons, and if that attitude could rub off on some of those around him it could only mean good things for the USC offense. Batchelor was given the Steve Sisk Outstanding Blocker Award during halftime of the Garnet and Black Game to recognize his play throughout spring camp.
Perhaps the most important player for the success of South Carolina's o-line this year is junior center Garrett Anderson. Anderson has played both guard and center during his career, but is being counted on as the team's starting center this season. Anderson missed most of spring practice with an injured back, but has been cleared to work out once the summer conditioning program starts in a few weeks.
Anderson was highly recruited out of high school with offers from USC, Clemson, Virginia Tech, and West Virginia, but was thrown into the fire early as a true freshman during the 2006 season. Anderson had an up-and-down campaign last year, but looked poised to live up to his full potential early this spring, showing some of the same mean streak Batchelor showed.
While often not given enough credit for it, Anderson is actually one of the most athletic linemen on the team. He is a smart player and it is key that he will be able to go through summer workouts to continue getting stronger in order to deal with the mammoth defensive tackles he will face week after week in the SEC. A healthy Garrett Anderson in the lineup will give the Gamecocks the most talented and experienced offensive line they have had at the beginning of the season during the entire Spurrier era.
If Anderson's back continues to give him trouble then Seaver Brown will get the nod in the middle. The 6'5", 307 pound former Countryside High standout started six games at left guard last year, but finds himself as the backup center going into the summer. Brown has gained the admiration of the coaches because of his ability to quickly learn the offense and to always be in the right spot. Brown is good at picking up the blitz, but is realistically still a year in the weight room away from being the ideal starter at center in the SEC. Unfortunately for him, South Carolina has not had the option of bringing him along slowly, and he has been thrown into the fire to learn as he goes.
The redshirt sophomore gives good effort at all times, but it would be best for him and for the offensive line as a unit if Brown can backup Anderson this year and provide depth at the center position. Brown could also use a big summer in the weight room to get him more physically prepared for the rigors of the SEC.
One player who has spent plenty of time in the USC weight room and has seen the benefits of doing so is starting left guard Lemuel Jeanpierre. Jeanpierre came to USC as a lean 245-pound defensive end, but after spending his first two years at defensive tackle, he has found a home on the offensive line as a 293-pound starter. Jeanpierre has shown vast improvement since making the move late last spring and started to really look comfortable there during spring practice this year.
As one of the strongest players on the team, the junior from Orlando has all the physical size and ability to be a quality SEC starter. He just needs to continue learning the nuances of playing on the offensive line. Jeanpierre is a hard worker off the field and will need to use his summer time continuing to work on his technique as well as the blitz protection schemes. If Jeanpierre's move to the offensive pays off the way the coaches hope it can, then he may become the prime example of how a defensive tackle can be converted to a productive o-lineman, making that type position change more attractive to players in the future.
Another converted defensive tackle looking to find a home on offense is Austell, Ga. native Terrence Campbell, who is a second string guard right now. Like Jeanpierre, Campbell made the transition from d-lineman to o-lineman last fall and has shown potential there, but is not quite as far along as Jeanpierre is. Campbell is an athletic specimen who has an upside on the line, but struggled at times learning his assignments and consistently being in the right spot. The biggest thing for Campbell will be to continue to improve over the summer, study his assignments, and attempt to learn from the more experienced guards on the roster. It would also be good for the 6'3", 285-pounder's development if he could get some playing time this year as a reserve, though Hunt's philosophy is to play the starting five all game.
Also making progress as a backup is Charlotte native Pierre Andrews. Andrews is undersized, but battles inside and could even be ahead of Campbell at this point in their careers. Recruited as a center, Andrews is working at backup guard now and will provide depth this season. Andrews will need to continue to get better and contend for a starting spot next season.
Redshirt freshman Ryan Broadhead got a ton of work this spring with Anderson out, but at 270 pounds is realistically a few years away from really competing on the line. If Anderson is healthy, the former Lee County lineman will work out as the third string center.
Incoming freshman and former Aynor standout T.J. Johnson will join the fold this summer and will more than likely start out at center. Johnson is as impressive a physical specimen as you will see as a senior in high school and was a big performer at the Shrine Bowl of the Carolina's practices in Spartanburg this year before breaking his ankle in the actual game. Obviously, as with almost all freshman offensive linemen, it will be best if Johnson can redshirt, but if injuries occur and Johnson knows his assignments well enough then the true freshman may play earlier than expected.
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