Gamecocks go through Wednesday workout
At no position were the injuries more evident than running back, where freshman Kenny Miles, who is redshirting this season, took the first team snaps.
"If we were playing this weekend, we'd have to see what Kenny Miles could do," said Steve Spurrier after Wednesday's practice. "He's the lone healthy one right now. He looks good. He can run with the ball, but he's probably not up to speed on the pass protection."
The injuries that led to Miles' ascension are varied. Starter Mike Davis had fluid drained from his knee, but he is not expected to miss any playing time.
"He should be [alright against Tennessee]," according to Spurrier.
Eric Baker suffered a concussion against LSU, and his status is less certain.
"We were hoping Eric Baker was going to get some carries last week, but he got bonked on the head on his first carry and fumbled the ball and got knocked out," said Spurrier. "He's still got some headaches. I guess we'll find out next week if he can play or not."
Sophomore Brian Maddox continues to be sidelined with a knee sprain, and no timetable has been set for his return. Besides Miles, the lone running back not currently sidelined by injury is Bobby Wallace. Just two weeks ago, Wallace was the backup to Davis, but now he is back down the depth chart.
"Bobby had one or two carries [against LSU] and just nothing good happened," Spurrier said, explaining why Miles was practicing ahead of Wallace.
Running back was not the only position affected by injury on Wednesday. Quarterback Stephen Garcia, who started his first game against LSU, was sidelined for most of practice with a sore shoulder. When he talked about Garcia, Spurrier seemed skeptical about the severity of the injury.
"Garcia was hurt, he acted like he didn't want to play today so we held him out. Chris Smelley did most of [the first team snaps]," Spurrier said. "Garcia's shoulder was bothering him, or his head was bothering him, so he didn't do much today."
As he did Tuesday, Spurrier suggested Wednesday, jokingly we think, although you can never tell with the Head Ball Coach, that the solution at quarterback may be to bench both of his top quarterbacks, Garcia and Smelley. Both have played better off the bench than as a starter, leading Spurrier to suggest that maybe walk-on Zac Brindise or former starter Tommy Beecher should take the first snaps.
"We don't know who's going to start right now," he said. "It's sort of up in the air. Again, we may put Zac Brindise out there first. Stephen and Chris do better coming off the bench. Maybe we'll start Tommy. He hasn't played in awhile."
Rychleski discusses special teams, tight ends
If the bye week is a good time for players to work on correcting mistakes in technique, then the bye came at a perfect time for kicker Ryan Succop. A preseason Lou Groza award candidate, Succop began the year by hitting 11-14 field goals. However, in the past two games, he has missed five of his seven attempts, prompting fans to wonder what is wrong with the All-SEC performer. Succop did suffer an abdominal strain prior to the Kentucky game, but special teams coach Ray Rychleski says that is not a factor.
"It can't be that bad because his kickoffs have been very good," said Rychleski. "It's like a golfer with a swing. You've got to correct that swing. Tiger Woods has a coach, but Tiger Woods watches that film of himself and corrects the problem. The coach can point out certain things, but it's the player who watches himself on tape and corrects the problem."
With that in mind, Rychleski has come up with a plan for getting Succop back on track. He has compiled tape of all the kicks Succop has missed, and thinks he has found the key to why the senior has struggled suddenly.
"I think he's picking up his head a little bit," he said. "Wherever his eyes go, the ball goes. We'll watch all our kicks and go out and practice and get some confidence."
Even with all that in mind, Rychleski remained pragmatic about correcting Succop's struggles. He is convinced that no matter how many kicks a kicker makes in practice, it is the ones during the game that count. As evidence, he pointed to the NFL, where a 2-7 stretch like the one Succop has endured could put a kicker out of a job.
"You see in the NFL all the time once guys can't do it they get cut," Rychleski said. "There is no simple answer. The only answer I know is watch what he's doing wrong, try to correct it, and then kick it from there. You learn by watching and you learn by doing."
Other than field goals, Rychleski has much to be pleased with on special teams. Chris Culliver and Captain Munnerlyn have done fine work as kick returners, to the point where Rychleski sees teams beginning to kick away from the return men.
"What's happened with us is people will start kicking it short on us because we're returning some [for big gains]," he explained. "I'm very happy with our kickoff returns because our drive start average is the 30 yard line. Our kickoff coverage drive start average is the 21-yard line [a nine yard difference]."
Rychleski was also pleased with the way the punt return unit played. Munnerlyn has not had the success on punt returns he has had on kick returns, but he still broke off an 18-yard return against the Tigers. Still, there is room for improvement.
"The phase that did a better job Saturday was the punt block and return," said Rychleski. "Captain had a nice return and Chris Hail actually tipped the one [punt]. It was a solid effort. What we didn't do was make any huge plays."
For the second consecutive game, though, Munnerlyn suffered from cramps and had to leave the game. While he was sidelined, LSU was able to pick on backup cornerback Addison Williams. That led some to speculate that Munnerlyn is being overextended on special teams, and it is costing the defense. Rychleski bristled at that suggestion, however, pointing out that Munnerlyn has always had a problem with cramps.
"Do you know how many special teams plays he played?" he asked. "Five. It's not a lot. Last year he was on kickoff coverage, one of the gunners. I made sure this year that he was only a returner. I'm very conscious of the fact that starters only play two special teams. This problem he had [with cramping] was here long before I got here."
In addition to special teams, of course, Rychleski also coaches the tight ends. The past few weeks have been banner weeks for the unit, as Jared Cook has emerged as a go-to threat and Weslye Saunders scored the first two touchdowns of his career. Cook has made plays despite a foot injury that had kept him from practicing much. He practiced Wednesday only to reinjure the same foot that has been bothering him.
"They stepped on him tonight in practice and [the trainers] are going to put a boot on him tonight," Rychleski reported. "He kind of reinjured it a little bit on a freak play on a [pass] route."
As Cook's backup, Saunders has not seen as much playing time, especially early in the year. He has the physique to be an imposing blocker, but Saunders has always struggled with that aspect of the game, to the point that the coaches moved wide receiver-turned-linebacker-turned-tight end Larry Freeman ahead of Saunders on the depth chart. Saunders seemed to get the message, and has focused on his blocking enough to get back on the field, where he can do what he does best: catch the ball.
"One thing about Weslye is he wants to play," said Rychleski. "He understands that the only way he plays is if he works hard and he blocks people. He seems to realize that he's stronger than he was before and he can block these guys, and not play like a wide receiver but play like a tight end and really an offensive lineman. He's starting to realize that if he does that he'll play more and more."
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