Gamecocks brave weather for Thursday practice

Mother Nature has not been particularly kind to the Gamecocks since fall practice began. First, she used unusually warm (even for Columbia) temperatures to remind everyone that fall practice begins in the summer, and then she chased players from the practice fields with thunderstorms. The team was resilient Thursday night, and despite another storm, got in a solid practice.

"Everybody got soaked, but after that the weather was pretty good and actually a little cool tonight," said Steve Spurrier. "We got a lot of plays in."

The team went through a normal practice and then scrimmaged for about 45 minutes at the end of the session. The scrimmage was a make-up for the Wednesday night scrimmage that was canceled because of lightning. The scrimmage featured younger players, and was essentially third team versus third team. The scrimmage gave redshirt freshman quarterback Stephan Garcia some extensive playing time, although Spurrier was equivocal in his analysis of Garcia's performance.

"About what you'd expect," he described Garcia's play. "He's all over the place. The protection wasn't very good and not many guys were open so he ran around quite a bit."

True freshmen quarterbacks Aramis Hillary and Reid McCollum also took some snaps, although neither excelled. Spurrier was not discouraged, however, as he acknowledged the newcomers were doomed to failure.

"They weren't ready to play" he said, "but we thought we'd throw them in anyway."

Spurrier recognized a trio of defenders who excelled in the scrimmage. Safety Chris Culliver, who is positioning himself to be the third safety in Ellis Johnson's 4-2-5 defense, forced a fumble and was generally solid. In addition, Spurrier had high praise for a pair of players who aren't expected to play this year.

"Mike Newton on defense is playing pretty good out there on defensive corner," he said. "Shoot, he covers everybody, and we can't seem to get a pass on him. I don't know if we've blocked Devin Taylor at freshman defensive end. He was all over the place."

There was a bit of bad news early in practice when running back Mike Davis went down with a shoulder injury. The injury was particularly puzzling because Davis was untouched at the time.

"Mike Davis just fell on the ground in a drill," said Spurrier. "Nobody touched him, and he hurt his shoulder a little bit. He missed the entire practice. He'll probably be out at least a week or so."

In Davis' place, Brian Maddox becomes the first team running back. Taylor Rank and freshman Eric Baker are the backups.

Rychleski talks special teams

Although rain has wreaked havoc on the practice schedule the past two days, it was a welcome contributor to new special teams coach Ray Rychleski's drills Thursday evening. "Coach Ray" wanted to see how his players responded to the weather, and although he was not pleased, he was still thankful for the learning experience.

"I was thrilled that Coach Spurrier kept us out here tonight with the hard rain," said Rychleski. "Our guys didn't handle it well. This is the best thing that could have happened to us. We beat Florida State at Maryland two years ago because we handled the weather better than they did. We've got to be tougher mentally in situations like that. I was disappointed in that tonight; we should have handled it better. We just tried to get through it instead of taking advantage of a really good practice day."

With the exception of punter ("Can you punt?" Rychleski pleaded with reporters), the special teams lineup is beginning to take shape. Chris Culliver, who returned kicks last year, will be the kick returner, backed up by Captain Munnerlyn. Additionally, Munnerlyn will be the middle man, the position in front of the return man. The middle man has to be able to field short kicks, but his primary responsibility is blocking for the return man. Freshman Akeem Auguste will back up both positions.

"Right now Auguste is a valuable thing," Rychleski explained. "I've got him on a lot of second teams, but he's a valuable guy right now. He will hit you, and he does have good speed and he can catch it."

Oddly enough, the highlight of the practice for Rychleski was when Culliver, playing safety, forced a fumble from wide receiver Joe Hills during the scrimmage.

"You've got to be tough back there and hang onto the ball," he said.

Punt returns will be handled by Munnerlyn. The junior speedster averaged 9.2 yards per return last season, with a long of 46 yards. He will be backed up by Auguste.

For most Carolina fans, punt return is less of a concern than punt block. A blocked punt was the difference in the 23-21 loss to Clemson last year, something no Gamecock wants to repeat. As such, Rychleski has put an emphasis on the basics like punt protection, and with good results.

"Right now we're doing better with that," he said. "I'm pleased with that. Our second team is not as good as our first team, but that's why they're second team."


- The subject turned to Brett Favre during Spurrier's post-practice media session. One person suggested that Favre returning to the Packers would be like graduated quarterback Blake Mitchell returning to the Gamecocks. Asked if he would take Mitchell back, Spurrier said he would not. "No, simply because Tommy [Beecher]'s been here all summer, and Tommy's ready to go," Spurrier explained.

- Walk-on fullback Jim Hutton is likely out for the season with torn ligaments in his right knee.

- Safety Mark Barnes sat out practice with a hamstring injury.

- Spurrier expects to receive a final ruling on the eligibility of Tori Childers in "the next day or two."

- Wide receiver Joe Hills was sporting a Mohawk at practice, but Spurrier was not impressed. "It sorta looks pretty silly, I think, but if it floats his boat I guess he can do that," Spurrier said.

- The Gamecocks will practice again Friday night, but the session will be closed to the public. They will scrimmage on Saturday, also closed to the public.

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