Spurrier, Jr.: Receivers Making Progress

South Carolina wide receivers coach Steve Spurrier, Jr. is faced with the task of developing a young group of receivers that can effectively replace Jared Cook, who left early for the NFL, and all-time leading receiver Kenny McKinley. Following Tuesday's practice Spurrier talked about the progress of that unit so far this spring.

South Carolina wide receivers coach Steve Spurrier, Jr. knew entering the spring that there were some question marks surrounding his receiving corps.

After receiving tight end Jared Cook chose to forgo his senior season in favor of the NFL draft and USC's all-time leading receiver Kenny McKinley exhausted his eligibility, Spurrier is faced with the task of replacing USC's top two receiving threats from last season as well as 91 catches and over 1,200 yards worth of production.

While there is still a long way to go, nine practices into the 2009 spring Spurrier, Jr. says that unit is making strides in the right direction.

"Joe Hills [still] has a lot to learn. I think Dion [LeCorn], Jason [Barnes] and Moe [Brown] are doing about what we expected them to do," Spurrier says. "We still need to get a lot better as a group if we're going to try to replace Jared and Kenny."

The bulk of the receptions that will have to replace that large chunk of production will likely come from USC's much-hyped wide receiver class of 2007. While the haul was widely considered the best group of receivers to ever sign with USC, the performance of those receivers has been largely inconsistent to this point.

Spurrier says Barnes, LeCorn, Hills and Brown would be a part of the main four-man rotation if the season started now. Barnes, LeCorn and Hills were a part of that highly rated 2007 class. Each has stepped up to some degree this spring and as a whole the group may be close to living up to its billing.

While Hills has shown signs and Brown has had a solid spring, Barnes and LeCorn have led the way.

A 6-4, 200 pound former three-star prospect from North Carolina prep power Independence High School, Barnes has arguably been the Gamecocks' most consistent receiver this spring. Barnes played as a true freshman, but redshirted after spraining his ankle. He then had an up-and-down redshirt freshman season in which he showed his true potential with a 7-catch, 2-touchdown performance at Ole Miss.

"Jason has come a long way," Spurrier said.

"He had some great games [last year], and then had some games he didn't get thrown the ball as much," he continued. "He still has to develop and learn to play a little more physical. But speed and running and competing, he's learned to do that a little bit better, and really has a chance to be a special player."

LeCorn has also enjoyed a productive spring becoming a favorite target of the Carolina quarterbacks. The Ocala, Fla. native showed incredible promise as a freshman receiver but a lackluster effort during the following summer workouts sparked the coaches to move him to safety. After a season in a reserve role there, a move back to receiver seems to have re-energized the versatile playmaker.

"I think he wants to be a good player; I think he realizes he's a receiver and he can really be a good one," Spurrier said. "He's got some skills and some size and strength that we really don't have at the position. He's the only guy we have that can really be a great blocker inside. And he's a good receiver too; I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do."

LeCorn will also be starring in USC's version of the Wild Hog formation, deemed the "Cocky" formation by head coach Steve Spurrier.

"Everybody wants their shot to get back there; they're fighting to get under center a little bit," Spurrier said. "But he's big enough to do that, he's tough enough to do it. And he can throw the ball a little bit. So we plan on giving him a few things and letting him go play."

The changes to the running game are largely being implemented by new offensive line coach and running game coordinator Eric Wolford, who Spurrier, Jr. coached with at Arizona. Spurrier quipped that he counts Wolford in the list of signees he recruited for this class.

While the running game will feature many changes, Spurrier says the passing portion of the offense has remained mostly untouched.

One player still learning that passing game and potentially a wild card with a chance to break into the starting rotation is redshirt freshman Tori Gurley. Primarily known for his basketball prowess at Rock Hill High, the 6-5, 220 pound Gurley has wowed spectators with his high-flying moves all spring.

"He's made some impressive plays," Spurrier said. "But he still has a lot to learn before he's a guy that can play in this league. But he's big enough and strong enough, and he's determined enough. His attitude to want to go play is there. And that will carry him a long way. He's a guy I expect to play next year."

While many young receivers struggle running precise routes, Spurrier says Gurley has picked up that part of playing the position well. Right now the talented receiver just needs more time to learn.

"He just needs to learn the offense, right now the indecision doesn't help him much," Spurrier says. "But any time the ball is in the air and you've got a guy that can come down with it that's an asset you can't teach. We'll teach him just to run down there and we'll throw it up to him. He doesn't need to be real specific on route-running if that's something he's not good with. Right now he's pretty good at it."

A solid group of freshman receivers will also join Gurley this summer in his attempts to learn the offense. Two or three of those freshman will play this season according to Spurrier, Jr. One player the coach singled out who will definitely play is four-star signee from Calhoun County Alshon Jeffery, who was at practice today and participated in team meetings.

Spurrier says when you have athletes like Gurley and Jeffery you find a way to get them the ball and teach them as they go.

"You just keep learning," he said. "No, he can learn it. If we had to play next week we'd teach (Gurley) five plays and let him go play. In spring ball you put in everything. We've got every play, every route, every formation. I don't expect him to know a whole lot. I just tell him to try to learn something new everyday."

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