Improving Hillary jumps to #2 on depth chart
The Gamecocks practiced in full pads for the first time on Saturday evening, but there were few bright spots from the workout, according to Spurrier - at least offensively. USC's quarterbacks struggled handling snaps, had trouble connecting with open receivers, and generally just had an off night. Being the perfectionist that he is, Spurrier had some critical words for his offense following the practice session.
"We got a lot of snaps and plays in. There were a lot of ugly plays. The (quarterback-center exchange) is the first thing we don't do very well. We've got a lot of fundamentals to work on if we're going to be a decent offense this year," Spurrier said. "Hopefully we can get the snap from the quarterback to the center, and hopefully we can throw a few completions every now and then. Right now, it's difficult."
Spurrier continued with his comments on the offense, noting that no position is safe and expressing frustration with a few of the lackadaisical attitudes he still sees on the team.
"Who knows who will open up for us? We dang sure don't have a lot of preseason all-conference offensive guys. We don't have any. We're searching for ball players right now on offense," he stated. "We've got a lot of guys, I don't know if they really like football. They're just out here going through the motions. We need to get those guys up to speed and let them quit and go somewhere else to play, probably."
The top performer of the night was redshirt freshman quarterback Aramis Hillary, who entered the preseason on the third team and wasn't on most people's radar after a forgettable spring camp. However, the Head Ball Coach has been impressed with the progress he's seen from Hillary in the first week of fall practice, and he proclaimed to reporters following Saturday's session that the dual-threat signal caller has leapfrogged Reid McCollum on the depth chart.
"Aramis is number two now," Spurrier stated. "I said Reid was at the beginning of the season, but no more. Aramis is number two. Aramis made some plays and is doing pretty doggone well. He would be number two right now, and hopefully Reid can get the snap and hit some guys when they're open."
Spurrier expounded on Hillary's progress, but was careful to note that he still has some developing to do.
"He's getting a little bit more on his passes. He's still got a ways to go, but he can make some plays," Spurrier said.
The quarterbacks, as a whole, would benefit from the confidence that comes from success in live game action, according to Spurrier. However, the veteran coach is quick to point out that football teams practice for a reason and that USC still has over three weeks to work out the kinks before opening the season.
"It's all confidence," he emphasized. "None of our quarterback have much (confidence) right now because none of them have had great success doing much. That comes from having success over and over and over again. That's how you build confidence.
"We don't play for about three weeks… We've got a lot of time to practice, and that's why we're out here scrimmaging away and having a go at it. We're seeing who wants to play. That's why we do all this stuff," Spurrier continued. "I think our offense is going to be okay."
On a brighter note, Spurrier has been encouraged by what he's seen from the running backs this preseason, and he continued to praise emerging fan-favorite Bryce Sherman for his play on Saturday.
"Kenny (Miles) is doing fine. All of (the running backs) are. Jarvis (Giles), Brian Maddox, and our little guy (Bryce Sherman). I'm glad we've got Bryce Sherman out here. He played about the whole scrimmage with the young guys and did well," Spurrier said of the walk-on speedster. "He's a tough little kid. He can catch the ball and get open. He knows how to play football. We‘re glad he‘s here."
Diminutive speedster Bryce Sherman, seen above standing next to Stephon Gilmore during punt return drills, continues to draw praise from Steve Spurrier.
The early returns on JUCO offensive line transfers Steven Singleton and Rokevious Watkins are positive, as Spurrier said they did well in their first day practicing with the team.
"They did okay for just showing up. Coach (Eric) Wolford likes those guys. He thinks they can play. He thinks they can block people," Spurrier proclaimed. "Gamecocks know, we need some blocking. We need some blockers, and they've got a chance. We'll see if they can work their way up to the first team."
One offensive lineman who didn't have the best night was senior center Garrett Anderson. The preseason Rimington Watch List member whiffed on a block early on in the scrimmaging portion of practice, and Offensive Line Coach Eric Wolford demoted him to second team for the remainder of the night, in favor of fellow senior Lemuel Jeanpierre.
"Garrett got pulled off the first team after the first play (of scrimmaging)," Spurrier commented. "I think he missed a block. We're not afraid to demote them quickly."
While the offense is having its growing pains this preseason, Spurrier has been consistently pleased by what he's seen from the defense. That continued on Saturday night, according to USC's fifth year head coach.
"I thought the defense played pretty well tonight and had some good, clean hits. Nobody got hurt. It was a pretty good practice for a lot of guys," he insisted. "Our defense is playing well. They were quick and fast. We're going to have a very good defense."
Wolford emphasizing physicality, competition to offensive linemen
To say that Eric Wolford brings a different approach to coaching the offensive line than his predecessor John Hunt would be an understatement. Gone are the days of limited hitting in practice and finesse blocking schemes. Wolford, who came to USC after spending the previous two years coaching at Illinois in the rugged, smash mouth Big Ten, has emphasized physicality - and lots of it - since the day he arrived in Columbia.
That has been an adjustment process for USC's returning offensive linemen, but Wolford is seeing progress and a change in mentality from his group this preseason, thanks in large part to the intense one-on-one battles that the he and Defensive Line Coach Brad Lawing orchestrate each and every practice.
"Something that Brad (Lawing) and I like is it's a chance for his players and my players to line up and just learn how to hit people in the mouth. That's something that you've just got to be able to do as a lineman, whether you're an o-lineman or d-lineman. We talk about wanting to become more physical here as a football team, and that's something Coach Lawing and myself believe in. We're going to do it everyday," he said emphatically. "It'll be everyday. We're going to hit people, and that's just the way it's going to be.
"We're going to hit people so that we can try and move the line of scrimmage. I think it's going to help both sides."
Wolford, who also holds the title of Running Game Coordinator for USC, believes the Gamecocks have the potential to feature a much improved and more physical ground game this season.
"It's a learning process, but in the inside drill we did some good things at times. When we execute and play with fundamentals, we've got a chance to do some really good things," he said. "We can really pound it up in there as long as we're consistent and everyone's on the same page."
Fifth year senior Lemuel Jeanpierre worked as the first team center in Saturday's practice, ahead of returning starter Garrett Anderson.
One of the more intriguing storylines from Saturday's practice was that senior center Garrett Anderson, who has started 21 career games for the Gamecocks, was demoted to second team in favor of Lemuel Jeanpierre after whiffing on a block. However, that shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone who knows Wolford, as he's repeatedly emphasized that no job is safe on his line.
"At the end of the day, everybody's job is up for grabs. I've said that for a long time. That's the way it'll always be. You better play at a high level, or I'm going to find someone else that can play your position," he stated. "No one's grandfathered in. I don't care how many games you've started, what you've played, what you've done in the past, who your dad is, or who your mom is. I don't care. The best football player is going to line up and play at every position… Anybody can be starting at any position on day one."
USC's first year line coach continued, emphasizing the importance of having a competitive environment on the offensive line.
"You have an opportunity in front of you, and you can either seize it or give it up. If you give it up, then it's someone else's job until they give it up. That's the way life is. If you're not performing well, there's probably going to be someone else replacing you to do your job. That's what's great about having a competitive environment," Wolford proclaimed. "It's still nowhere near as competitive as I want it, but we're getting closer."
Along the same lines, Wolford stated that he's been impressed with junior Heath Batchelor, who left the team last fall for personal reasons and didn‘t return until this summer, but quickly pointed out that the hard-nosed lineman has a lot of competition if he hopes to earn a starting spot.
"Heath is doing everything that we're asking him to do. He's just got a lot of competition right now," Wolford noted. "He came back in good shape. He's a little bit rusty, as I would expect. The best part about this thing is we're finally starting to get a group of guys around here that realize: You better eat breakfast, you better get treatment, you better be in your playbook, and you better be doing the extra things that give you an advantage over the guy next to you that's trying to take your job. I really like that."
Wolford concluded by sharing his impressions of JUCO transfers Steven Singleton and Rokevious Watkins, who worked out with the team for the first time on Saturday night and quickly earned the respect of onlookers with their physicality and toughness in the drills.
"Impressive," Wolford said of the two newcomers. "They come off the football. They like football. They can play with pad level, they have strength, they're athletic, and they have quick feet. All we've got to do is get them in shape and teach them what to do."
- Spurrier said junior wide receiver Dion LeCorn, who is nearly finished with his rehab after breaking a bone in his leg in the spring game, is "supposed to practice in a week or so." He said that LeCorn will play in the season opener against NC State "if he's 100-percent."
- Spurrier said he has been pleased with the receivers this preseason, for the most part. However, projected starter Jason Barnes had a disappointing night in Spurrier‘s eyes. The dropped balls by the third year receiver led to Spurrier joking talented freshman Alshon Jeffery could pass him on the depth chart tomorrow, as Spurrier said, "Heck, Alshon may be number one tomorrow. I don't know."
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