An offseason look: South Carolina

Is it football time yet? With the opening of fall camp less than a month away, provides this preview of Vanderbilt's opening opponent, South Carolina (Sept. 4). Coach Lou Holtz says QB starter Dondrial Pinkins made great progress in spring drills. "Dondrial's going to shock the conference, that's my prediction," Holtz said.

Not even a broken leg could keep 67-year-old South Carolina coach Lou Holtz from getting fully involved in spring practice. Holtz suffered a broken bone in his lower leg when a player fell on him during a practice drill in the first week of spring drills.

Yet, he was back out at the next practice, wobbling around and barking orders at a team that had a lot of work to do after two consecutive 5-7 seasons.

Holtz also got more involved in several areas of the team, including replacing his own son, Skip, as the offensive coordinator and running the offense himself. He also established a players' council to help him rebuild a team that has lost some of the unity and togetherness the Gamecocks possessed when they went 17-7 and won Outback bowls in after the 2000 and 2001 seasons.

As for how it went, good luck getting a straight answer from Holtz.

"I don't know how to evaluate what kind of spring practice you had when [your team] goes against each other," Holtz said. "We may not be very good on defense, but the defense is far ahead of the offense. How much progress we make this summer is going to be critical."

If any one area did progress in the spring it was the quarterback position. Starter Dondrial Pinkins struggled last season and completed only 50 percent of his passes, with nine interceptions and 10 touchdowns, and must improve for the Gamecocks to become a more dangerous offense.

Pinkins didn't help himself by struggling in the spring game, but if spring overall is any indication, Pinkins appears to be ready to make the most of his senior season.

"Dondrial's going to shock the conference, that's my prediction," Holtz said.

Preseason Predictions: DE Moe Thompson was selected preseason first-team all-conference by Lindy's and No. 15 nationally at his position. RB Demetris Summers and WR Troy Williamson were chosen second-team All-SEC by Athlon.

Key Game: At Vanderbilt, Sept. 4 -- This is a dangerous game for an opener, simply because it presents a must-win situation for the Gamecocks. If they win it, it's a good start and a warm-up for Georgia. If they lose, it opens the door to a lot of criticism and doubts that could be hard to shake.

The Mindset: The Gamecocks better be hungry, together and ready to play from the opener because they won't get many breaks, not even from non-conference opponents South Florida and Troy State. If they don't become a tougher football team and do a better job of controlling the ball and winning more battles up front, they could have a tough time matching the five wins of each of the past two seasons.

Big Shoes to Fill: It's tough enough losing CB Dunta Robinson, a first-round selection in the 2004 NFL draft, but it's even worse to lose two other experienced cornerbacks, Deandre' Eiland and Teddy Crawford. That puts a lot of pressure on the shoulders of Fred Bennett, Taqiy Muhammad (who started five games last season), Tremaine Tyler (who saw action in all 12 games with one start last year) and Jonathan Joseph, a junior college transfer who made an immediate impact in the spring.

Quote to Note: "Syvelle's performance in the spring game was outstanding. He threw for 277 yards and rushed for another 70 or so. Certainly, a performance like that and you plug him into the quarterback race. ... You like to have two quarterbacks who you can count on. You have one you start and then you have one you may need to put in at some point in time." -- South Carolina coach Lou Holtz on the quarterback competition between Dondrial Pinkins, Syvelle Newton and Blake Mitchell.

Projected Offensive Stars: TB Demetris Summers -- He was a unanimous first-team Freshman All-SEC selection last season after rushing for 638 yards and three touchdowns on 124 carries.

WR Troy Williamson -- He's shown plenty of big-play potential so far but coach Lou Holtz wants the offense, and Williamson, to do a better job of taking advantage of his talents.

Projected Defensive Stars: DEs Moe Thompson and George Gause -- The Gamecocks have to do a better job of getting upfield to disrupt the run and rush the passer, and it has to start with Thompson and Gause.

Injury Update: When spring practice ended, four Gamecocks had to correct nagging injuries, including Gause (knee), DB Corey Peoples (thumb), CB Jonathan Joseph (shoulder) and RB Cory Boyd (knee). All four are expected to be fully recovered in time for preseason workouts. ... Six other players missed spring practice due to injuries: offensive lineman Kris Mick (wrist), center Chad Walker (knee), tight ends Robert Pavlovic (foot) and Andy Boyd (knee), and defensive linemen Preston Thorne (knee) and Eric Stroman (foot).

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