Young players catch Spurrier's eye

The Gamecocks practiced Wednesday afternoon as players continue to battle it out for starting jobs. Steve Spurrier continued to say that all positions are open for competition, and no starters will be named until Thursday. He did credit several young players with solid practices, which could indicate who has an edge toward starting.


"Joe Hills made some catches," Spurrier said following Wednesday's workout. "Jason Barnes made a few. Larry Freeman, our third tight end right now, looks like he's ready to play. Those guys made a few plays. Eric Baker and Brian Maddox ran pretty well."

When it came to the constantly struggling offensive line, Spurrier had a harder time thinking of who played well.

"Let's see, which one looked pretty good on the o-line," he said, and then paused for almost ten seconds before finally saying, "Quintin Richardson did some good things."

Spurrier refused to tip his hand on the quarterback derby, saying Chris Smelley and Stephen Garcia are evenly matched following Wednesday's session.

"They both had some good moments today, both threw some good balls," he said.

Spurrier added that Garcia has dramatically improved his mentality. Garcia did not always have perfect attendance in meetings, but he has corrected that problem, according to Spurrier.

"He goes to everything," said Spurrier. "He's getting a little more knowledgeable of everything. He just hasn't been here a whole lot, but he's getting ready to play. He's been humbled. I think he's finally learned how much he needs to learn. A lot of kids coming out of high school think, ‘I'll just go out and start playing,' and it doesn't work that way. Especially playing quarterback: you've got to know what everybody's doing. He's in the process of trying to learn how to play quarterback."


Garcia thrilled with opportunity to play

He played three snaps against Georgia, but Saturday will mark the real debut of highly-touted redshirt freshman quarterback Stephen Garcia. Spurrier has opened up competition at all offensive positions this week, and that includes quarterback. Whether Garcia or incumbent Chris Smelley ends up starting the game, Spurrier intends to get Garcia on the field to see what the Tampa, FL native can do. After practice Wednesday, Garcia said he does not care which signal-caller has his name called first.

"I would just rather play, to be honest," he said. "Start or come off the bench, I just want to play. [The decision is] up to the coach. Me and Smelley have been practicing pretty well. I think whoever starts will do a pretty good job."

Garcia admitted it was "surprising" to hear Spurrier say he would play this week. Just a few weeks ago, Garcia was "solidly third team" after missing most of spring practice and all of the summer workouts following his third brush with law since coming to Carolina, and he seldom came up when Spurrier discussed the quarterbacks. Now Garcia has a chance to make his first career start.

"I was reading my playbook all the time over the summer and trying to get as much in as possible without being here and being coached and going through the summer workouts like all the other guys," he said. "I'm a little bit surprised, but I'm also excited about it."

Garcia's excitement is somewhat tempered by the fact that it comes at the expense of Smelley. The two are friends, and after finishing his interview, Garcia carried Smelley's pads to the locker room while the latter did his interview.

"I don't think Smelley did anything wrong to not deserve the starting job," Garcia said. "But [Spurrier] called my name so I'm going to compete for it just like any other quarterback."

Probably the biggest reason for Garcia's rise up the depth chart is that he is finally practicing with the offense. He missed all but a few days of his first two spring practice sessions, and spent his freshman year on the scout team. He needed most of this August just to get up to speed. He got a bit of luck when Tommy Beecher was injured, meaning Garcia began getting second team reps and eventually started splitting reps with Smelley.

"When I first got up here I got in trouble and didn't really get a chance to practice much," he said. "I'm just learning every single day and trying to get better every day. Practicing has been helping me learn the offense a lot more. I understand a lot more. This week of practice has been one of my best weeks, as far as learning the offense. I don't want to say I know everything about it, but I'm getting there."

Even before those three snaps against Georgia, Garcia was somewhat of a fan favorite. He is aware of how high fan expectations are for him, but he tries not to think about that.

"I don't even want to know, to be honest," he said. "I'm just trying to do the best that I can for the team. I'll try to go out there and play like I've been practicing."

Garcia is, however, grateful for the support he has received from fans. He said the attention he receives is "probably never going to get old." When he entered the game against the Bulldogs, he was cheered loudly, a fact that he definitely took note of.

"That was really exciting, hearing all those people cheering after all I've been through," he said. "It was pretty uplifting."

Garcia came to Carolina with long hair that made him stand out on and off the field. He now sports a close cropped do, something that helps him blend in a bit more. He has been humbled by his experience so far, and he did not realize the trappings of having everyone watching you.

"Unfortunately I had to learn that the hard way," he said. "I found that out, and it's not really a big deal anymore. I'm just keeping a low profile right now."

There was speculation over the summer that Garcia might transfer in order to get a new start. He said Wednesday there was never any truth to those rumors.

"I committed here to play for Coach Spurrier and to play for South Carolina," he said. "Unless they kicked me out of school I wasn't going to leave."


Notes:

- Left tackle Jarriel King returned to practice Wednesday after being taken to the hospital Tuesday with a heart murmur. King is expected to play Saturday.

- UAB coach Neil Callaway said Spurrier's decision to suspend four players, including three starters for the UAB game showed the Gamecocks have a lack of respect for the Blazers. Spurrier said that is not the case, adding, "We had to pick one game. Ask him which one he wanted me to pick."

- Although the game appears to be a mismatch on paper, Spurrier is anticipating a tight ball game. "They'll be pumped up to get a shot at an SEC team, they all are."


To discuss this article, visit The Cockpit, our free forum, or The Golden Spur, our premium forum.

Gamecock Anthem Top Stories