Spurrier pleased with QBs in midweek practice

With just over a week until the season opener at N.C. State, Coach Steve Spurrier commented following Wednesday's practice that he saw improved quarterback play from Stephen Garcia and Reid McCollum during the Gamecocks' afternoon workout. Spurrier stated he and the coaching staff are eyeing the weekend as the pivotal turning point towards focusing solely on preparations for the Wolfpack game.


"Our quarterbacks threw it a little bit better than yesterday, so there was some improvement," said Spurrier following Wednesday afternoon's practice. "It was significant improvement from yesterday. Yesterday I think we completed 2 out of 15 passes in the red zone, and today I think we hit about 9 out of 15 passes down there, so it was pretty good.

With the opener against N.C. State now eight days away, Spurrier said the Gamecocks are building up to game-week preparations and have not yet begun full fledged preparation for the Wolfpack.

"We're trying to pace ourselves out here," Spurrier commented in regards to getting his team ready for the first game. "Sometimes if you train two or three weeks for a game it's not good, so about eight or nine days (of practice) should be good (for the team)."

USC's fifth-year head coach said the Gamecocks have done a few things in preparation for the Wolfpack, but it won't be until the weekend before the team devotes the majority of its time to focus on the season opener.

"We haven't done much (on preparing for) N.C. State, just a little here and there. Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday will be big days for us with that," Spurrier noted.


Three Gamecocks battling for playing time at Spur

As mentioned in Tuesday's practice report, Antonio Allen has moved from strong safety to Spur linebacker, and his position coach Shane Beamer believes that he is making the transition quite well for a player who has very little experience at the Spur position.

"(Allen) is a natural at (Spur linebacker). He loves to make plays, and now we've got him in a position where he can do just that," Beamer said. "He's just got to continue to learn about the position and know his assignments."

Beamer said it has been tough on Allen having to learn the new position on such short notice, and the fact that the coaches are adding new plays they plan to use against N.C. State hasn't helped the cause.

"We're doing the same stuff defensively that we've been doing for three weeks, and we've begun adding some stuff that we'll be doing against N.C. State as well. (Adding the new plays) has kind of got (Allen's) feet tied right now as far as moving forward and learning more, but he's doing well for how much experience he's had at the Spur position."

As of right now, sophomore Alonzo Winfield would get the nod as the starting Spur linebacker, but nothing is set in stone, according to Beamer.

"Alonzo (Winfield) would be the starter at this point, but I tell those guys every day that they've got to compete to earn the right to get on the field."

Along with Winfield and Allen, Beamer says that he envisions the possibility of at least three players earning playing time at the Spur position for the Gamecocks this year, with highly touted true freshman and Columbia native DaMario Jeffery being the third.

"Between (Winfield), Antonio, and DaMario I think all of those guys could see some time on the field at Spur this season."

Beamer claims that he won't hesitate to insert Jeffery into the game even though the true freshman is the most inexperienced of the bunch.

"I feel good about (playing Jeffery). He's a smart kid who has that football smartness that's great to have in a player. I've got no problem putting (Jeffery) out there and feeling comfortable with him in the game."


Beamer discusses return specialists

As expected, junior speedster Chris Culliver will retain his job of first team kick-off return man, and his backup is a player who may be one of the biggest surprises of the preseason, walk-on Bryce Sherman.

"Culliver will be our starter on kick-off return, but we'd like to let Bryce Sherman get back there for a few (kick-offs) to see what he can do."

Sherman turned a bunch of heads during preseason practices with his speed and elusiveness as a running back, and Beamer says that he looks forward to seeing what the youngster can do with the ball in his hands on kickoffs.

"(Sherman) has got some great speed and he can be a game breaker back there for us, so I hope he can break off a few (long returns) for us when he gets his chances. When he gets the ball in his hands he can really make some things happen."

As a running back, Sherman has shown some toughness by breaking tackles and picking up yards after contact as well as standing his ground when it comes to picking up the blitz on passing plays.

"(Sherman) is a smaller guy, but he's really, really tough. I've watched when I send my guys at Spur and safety on blitzes, and (Sherman) isn't afraid to stick his nose in there to block those guys that are almost twice his size. He's just an incredibly tough kid."

With the departure of Captain Munnerlyn to the NFL, Beamer claims that sophomore Akeem Auguste will take over the duties as the primary punt returner.

"Akeem is a guy who did a little bit of punt returning for us last year, and he's worked there again for us during the preseason since he's gotten back to full health. He's really got some ability to make things happen when he's got the ball in his hands, and you want a guy like him who's got some experience back there (returning punts)."

True freshmen Stephon Gilmore and Jimmy Legree have also been getting some reps at punt returner, but Auguste's experience and proven ability will keep him atop the depth chart at punt returner heading into the season.


Notes:

- Wide receiver Matt Clements had another good practice, according to Spurrier.

- Cliff Matthews is expected to be back at practice on Thursday after having missed the past two days with an illness.

- Nathan Pepper estimates that he'll be able to contribute on 50 plays or so in the first couple of games. He and the training staff will evaluate how his surgically repaired knee responds after the first few games to determine his playing time for the rest of the season.

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