Pinkins returns for a fourth season in the system and the Gamecock coaches are keeping their fingers crossed that the light has finally come on for this redshirt junior from Camilla, Georgia. Dondrial began to show flashes of ability once handed the reins of the team in the final two ballgames of the season last year.
Four years in the system - this will be a do-or-die year for Pinkins if he wants to be the starter. We have always liked his athleticism and his strong arm. Known as the "Thrilla From Camilla," he has been a quarterback since his freshman year in high school so he knows how to play the position ... he has the tools and the instincts and natural ability. And he has always been a winner. He comes from a family of athletes and has a couple of older brothers who have not only played college ball, but pro ball (baseball) as well. In other words he has good genes.
We first noticed Dondrial at the Georgia/Florida High School All-Star game in Atlanta before the start of his HS senior season. It was there that he won the quarterback competition for rising seniors by being the most accurate thrower, and the QB with the strongest arm. His best toss went for over 70 yards in the air.
Since coming to South Carolina the knock on Pinkins has always been his ability to make quick decisions and read opposing defenses. And there have been questions about his ability to assert himself with his teammates while taking on more of a leadership role. But the coaches like his core abilities and they feel they can guide him in terms of converting his quiet easy-going demeanor into a more agressive confident style in the huddle.
The 6-3, 240 pound Pinkins is physical and you have to believe Coach Holtz likes that a lot. It allows Pinkins to take more of a pounding and it gives the offense more options in terms of their pass/run philosophy. Dondrial has the legs, he has the arm ... now we will find out if he has the head to play the position at this level. He'll be the man to beat for the job this season. We fully expect him to come out of spring practice firmly entrenched in the number one slot on the QB depth chart.
Mike is the enigma of this year's quarterback corp. The junior college transfer from California put up average numbers on the west coast after suffering a broken (finger) bone in his first season at Santa Mesa. What we've seen of Rathe so far we like. He has a very strong upper body, including a cannon for an arm. He needs to work on his release a bit but it is not so out-of-whack that our coaches cannot fine tune it and turn it into a more fluid throwing motion.
Mike's (6-2, 210) lower body strength needs plenty of work if he expects to be able to take the pounding that he will receive in the SEC. Unlike Pinkins, Rathe is almost exclusively a drop-back pro-style quarterback who likes to set up quick in the pocket and survey his options. Whether or not he has the ability to get out of trouble at this level has yet to be seen. How well he moves in the pocket is going to be something to watch for this spring. He has to be able to feel the pressure and slide out of it if he is going to be effective for us next season.
Rathe's major attributes appear to be his passing touch and his head for the game. He has a nice delivery overall and good touch in most of the more common QB to WR situations - and he does it naturally. He throws a tight spiral, able to float one short, zing one over the middle, or arch the bomb long. The film we have seen on him also shows an ability to throw while rolling to his left - not an easy task for most righties, but he makes it look easy. And he picks and chooses his targets well in the unsupervised practice situations we've seen him in so far. He visualizes where his receivers are going to be, long before they actually arrive ... that's something he does through second nature and it is a good sign. Anticipating where to throw the ball and trusting your receivers to be there is not necessarily a taught trait. Some QBs have it and some don't. Rathe does.
Mike was brought in to provide depth in a back-up role for this year's squad. The great thing about him is that he has three years of eligibility remaining (he has applied for a hardship year because of the injury) and he is already enrolled and participating in winter workouts and will be here for spring drills. This is a major plus especially for a new quarterback learning the system.
We are told Mike has had a few problems with dizziness when he first arrived. His Dad thinks it is more to do with acclimating himself to the humidity here in Columbia. The doctors think it might have something to do with needing more fluids in his system or possibly something to do with allergies and his inner ear. Either way, it looks like he is over the hump and is preparing himself to be an active and contributing member of this team come two-a-days next summer. This spring, the practices and the game, will tell us a lot about Rathe's potential. For the moment he reminds us of another JuCo transfer by the name of Mike ... from the mid-eighties ... Mike Hold.
Swygert, if nothing else, has shown us that he has an incredible heart. He has battled back from two serious knee injuries to emerge as a threat for the starting job heading into spring drills. Anyone that saw him compete last spring came away with the understanding that he is fearless and he has a good command of the game from behind center.
Bennett's (6-3 205) strength appears to be his ability to read defenses. Most observers rate him slightly bigger and more athletic than former Gamecock Phil Petty. A compliment of a comparison. Swygert has a better arm than Petty and he has the ability, because of his physical strength, to run the ball and take more punishment than Petty. Now, if only his knees will hold up because another knee injury of any sort would spell the end of Swygert's career.
Look for Swygert to make a play for serious snaps this spring - and this is very important. His teammates like his drive and desire ... they seem to respect him a great deal according to the ones we have spoken with. He understands our offensive system and he has the arm to get the job done mostly as a drop back passer but surprisingly as a young man who can roll out and tuck it and run when necessary. He is tough. He needs the snaps and the hits he will take during live contact drills this spring in order for him to get-over any lingering doubts in both his and our coaches' minds concerning the stability of his knee.
We reiterate. Swygert must get hit in the spring or else. If he is not cleared for contact during spring drills then all bets are off. This is a do or die season for Swygert.
Newton comes in with great expectations from the fans. Over and over again we have heard the comparisons to Michael Vick. Fair warning, Syvelle Newton is not a Michael Vick type of quarterback. He does not have Vick's arm and he does not have a combination of Vick's size (6-4, 230) and speed (4.31). Not yet anyway. Besides, we've seen him play on several occasions in high school and he is not what you would call a prototypical quarterback prospect. Most of his success as a signal caller in high school came from his pure/superior athletic ability.
What Syvelle Newton (6-2 210) does bring to the table is a lot of confidence. He has attitude and he believes in himself. He is a winner. Does this translate into early playing time as a quarterback in the SC program? No it does not. As a matter of fact unless Syvelle is willing to come in and sacrifice his early intention of being a quarterback ... he will redshirt. We will leave him in the QB scan for now, but he will not be a quarterback at South Carolina his freshman season unless it is on the practice squad.
Look for one of two things to happen with Syvelle Newton. He will either grow tired of riding the pine on gamedays and he'll make a move to wide receiver, slot back or cornerback ... or he will be patient but reluctant while riding the pine and willing to wait his turn for a better shot at the QB spot during his red-shirted freshman season - next year. Newton does have incredible 4.4 speed and excellent size and he should be rated a super-duper prospect in this past class as an athlete. His upside as a major college football prospect is tremendous.
Mitchell is another of our newest Gamecocks who will not play his freshman season. Yes, he has all of the necessary tools and skills to be a major college quarterback at this level ... but he will still be a true freshman.
We expect Blake to receive a lot of snaps with the scout teams during practices once he arrives this summer. He is a quarterback of the future for the Gamecocks. A heady drop back passer who his high school coach says has the speed to get out of trouble but he's not the type of QB you want running the ball ten times a game.
Mitchell has some growing to do. He has to work on his overall body strength during the course of his redshirt campaign because he is the weakest and least physically developed of all the prospects signed by the Gamecocks in this last class. He does have good technique, a good crisp quick release with good touch on his passes. He has incredible vision and field generalship. And obviously he is very intelligent - that's been the one thing everyone has told us about Blake. But he needs time to mature and grow into the position at this level, so put away your thoughts of Mitchell coming in and starting as a true freshman quarterback on this football team. Our program has progressed beyond the need to throw true freshmen QBs in the fire.
There is going to be a three horse race for starting quarterback duties on the Gamecock football team this year ... and it will all happen in the spring. Anyone not participating in spring drills will have little to no chance of making the two or three deep by the time two-a-days rolls around. This is going to come down to which of these QBs take charge of the team and run the offense most effectively without errors and without hesitations.
We fully expect Dondrial Pinkins to come out of the spring firmly seated as the number one quarterback on our roster. He is the returning fourth-year-in-the-system heir apparent. His light came on toward the end of last season and he performed admirably in the final two games. He has all the tools, he has the physcial attributes, and he has the backing of his teammates. The coaches are already telling him it is his job to lose.
Mike Rathe and Bennett Swygert will battle for the backup role. Rathe has the advantage because he is slightly older and more experienced than Swygert. What Swygert has is a better understanding of our offensive system at the moment and he has a tremendous heart. We never underestimate players with big hearts. But will Swygert be cleared for contact in time for Spring?
Syvelle Newton will redshirt unless he decides to move into a wide receiver, slot-back or cornerback role and Blake Mitchell will most definitely redshirt. The only variable that might come into play that would force early playing time for either of these new signees at the QB position would be if Swygert were to reinjure a knee and Rathe were to fail to meet the expectations for which he was signed ... or of course if Rathe were to go down with a major injury that would prevent him from participating in spring or summer practices.
As it stands at the moment, how this group of quarterbacks produce both during the spring and summer is how our team will fair in the upcoming season. There were three main areas that needed to be addressed coming out of last season. They were; Quarterback, Wide Receiver and Defensive Line. The coaches recruited well and we should expect help from some of the new recruits at wide receiver and on the defensive line. But at quarterback everything is riding on the play of Pinkins first, and Rathe and Swygert second with Rathe expected to emerge as the leader in our opinions. Whatever, those three have to step-it-up a notch and prepare themselves to produce at a higher level than the position produced for the Gamecocks during the 2002 campaign. Otherwise, we are in for a bumpy ride in 2003.