March 9, 2006
With head coach Steve Spurrier directing the attack, the Gamecocks believe that when they execute, they will find a way to score. Now with a season in Coach Spurrier’s system under their belts, the Carolina offense figures to click more consistently during the 2006 campaign. The 2006 USC offense features the return of six starters, including many of the skill position players, but must replace three starters along the offensive line. A plethora of freshmen linemen will join the squad this fall. How quickly they come along will go a long way in predicting the success of the Gamecocks this fall.
QUARTERBACK: Junior Blake Mitchell is the incumbent at the quarterback position. He was not challenged for those duties last season en route to throwing for 2,370 yards and 17 touchdowns while completing 59 percent of his passes. Redshirt freshmen Cade Thompson and Tommy Beecher watched and learned last fall, and now will be given an opportunity to compete with Mitchell this spring. Thompson appears to be ahead of Beecher based on last fall’s performance, and is considered the number two signal-caller entering the spring. Senior Brett Nichols is the only quarterback in camp besides Mitchell to have taken a snap in a game, but has not attempted a pass during his collegiate career. He is a veteran who understands the offense and will figure in the mix for the backup duties. The lone departure was Antonio Heffner, who transferred out in hopes of getting more playing time.
TAILBACK: The Gamecocks were forced to use true freshmen at the tailback slot last season, as Mike Davis, Bobby Wallace and Taylor Rank started the season as the top three backs on the depth chart. Now with a year of experience and with the return of junior Cory Boyd, the running game should be much-improved over a year ago. Davis came on strong at the end of the 2005 season, rushing for over 100 yards in the final two games against Clemson and Missouri to finish the season with a team-high 666 yards. Wallace got the start in the 2005 season opener against UCF and showed flashes as he made the adjustment to the collegiate level. Rank was hampered by an ankle injury for much of the campaign and hopes to work his way into the rotation with a strong spring. Boyd sat out the 2005 campaign due to a team suspension, but may be the most talented athlete of the group. His talents should fit nicely within the framework of Steve Spurrier’s offense.
FULLBACK: The Gamecocks have just two fullbacks listed on their roster entering the spring. Junior Lanard Stafford is listed as the starter. A converted offensive lineman, he is a solid blocking back, but did not have any carries in 2005. True freshman Clark Gaston will be a player to watch this spring. At 6-2 and 233 pounds, Gaston has the physical tools to be a solid contributor in his first collegiate campaign. An early graduate from high school, Gaston will have the added benefit of going through 15 spring practices to get acclimated to the Spurrier system. The only running back to leave the program was co-captain Daccus Turman, who was a tough, hard-nosed performer on the field and a team leader off the field.
WIDE RECEIVER: No conversation about the Carolina receiving corps can begin without the mention of all-everything Sidney Rice. Rice broke nearly every imaginable record at USC during his redshirt freshman campaign of 2005, hauling in 70 passes for 1,143 yards and scoring 13 touchdowns. He capped off his incredible season with a 12-catch, 191-yard receiving game against Missouri in the Independence Bowl. Playing opposite Rice is sophomore Kenny McKinley. McKinley came on strong during the 2005 campaign, catching 25 passes for 291 yards, including a 42-yard touchdown reception at Arkansas that proved to be the game-winner. Noah Whiteside could again be the Gamecocks’ deep threat as he is now a full year removed from a bro ken ankle sustained in the 2005 spring game. The ankle and other foot injuries kept him from being at his best in 2005, but now he looks to make an impact in his final collegiate campaign. Redshirt freshmen O.J. Murdock and Freddie Brown, along with walk-on Paul Haile will try to work their way into the rotation with a strong spring showing. The wild card among the skill position players is senior Syvelle Newton. Newton was used at wide receiver, running back and quarterback in 2005 before suffering a season-ending torn Achilles’ tendon. He will miss the spring session while continuing his rehab program. It is not clear as to whether he will be able to go in the fall or if he will elect to take a redshirt season in hopes of returning in 2007. Gone from the 2005 squad are possession receiver Kris Clark and walk-ons Michael Flint and Tim Frisby along with Travis Lee, who elected to give up playing football midway through the season.
TIGHT END: Redshirt freshman Jared Cook slides down from the wide receiver position to get a long look this spring at tight end. The 6-5, 229-pounder showed good hands while on the scout team last fall and could make the tight end position more of a factor in the passing game this fall. Juniors Robert Pavlovic and David Laggis both saw playing time last fall, but were used primarily as blockers. Senior Andy Boyd is expected to miss the spring but hopes to be back this fall competing for time after undergoing surgery to repair a torn ACL last fall. Boyd has caught just two passes in his career, but both have gone for touchdowns. Carson Askins elected to forego his final year of eligibility despite starting five games last fall.
OFFENSIVE LINE: With the loss of three starters in Na’Shan Goddard, Jabari Levey and Freddy Saint-Preux, the Gamecocks will look to revamp their offensive line in 2006. However, most of that may have to wait until this fall, when offensive line coach John Hunt welcomes seven newcomers. This spring, Hunt may have to piece things together, starting with senior center Chris White. White started every game last fall (one of only four players on the squad to do so), and has made 28 career starts, most on the squad. He will be backed up at center by sophomore Jeremy Burgess. Senior walk-on Thomas Coleman is penciled in at the left guard position after making four starts a year ago. A pair of juniors, James Thompson and Jamon Meredith figure to get the first shot at right guard and right tackle, respectively. Thompson started three games in 2005 while Meredith got the starting nod on four occasions. Gurminder Thind is slated to start at left tackle in his sophomore season. Justin Sorensen is the biggest player on the squad at 6-7 and 309 pounds and is listed as the backup at right tackle. Seth Edwards, who has worked some at tight end and on the defensive line, moves to the backup slot at left tackle. Hardee Sanders is a redshirt freshman who adds depth at right guard. Bryan Kingrey, who has played linebacker and fullback at USC, moves to the offensive line this spring to add depth to a thin position. William Brown started the first four games of the 2005 season before being sidelined with a back injury. He would be a welcome addition if he is able to regain his health.
The Gamecocks will have a lot of new faces on the defensive side of the ball this season, as they return just four starters off the 2005 squad. With the early departure of All-American safety Ko Simpson along with all-conference pick Johnathan Joseph to the NFL, the Gamecocks have a few more holes to fill than they may have anticipated. Competition for several positions will be hotly contested this spring, and the result may be a deeper, more active squad this fall. Defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix, along with a revamped defensive coaching staff, will have the task of moving the parts around to find the best fit.
DEFENSIVE LINE: The defensive line will have to replace departed seniors De’Adrian Coley, Orus Lambert, Charles Silas and Chris Tucker, who all saw significant playing time. However, two starters return in nose tackle Stanley Doughty and defensive end Jordin Lindsey. Doughty plays with a lot of emotion, while Lindsey has a high motor and may be the squad’s best pass rusher. Junior Marque Hall and sophomore Matt Raysor figure to battle it out for the defensive tackle position next to Doughty. Both have potential and need to step it up a notch if the Gamecocks are to be solid in the middle of the line. Dakota Walker overcame an early season injury to show enough flashes to earn a spot on the 2005 SEC All-Freshman squad. He is projected as the starter on the opposite side of Lindsey. Shea McKeen and Lemuel Jeanpierre are a pair of redshirt freshmen who will look to make their mark this spring. Both have the capabilities of contributing in the fall. Ryan Brown slides down from linebacker to get a look at defensive end this spring. Nathan Pepper figures to back up Doughty at the nose position, while junior college transfer Joel Reaves enrolled in January and will get a look at defensive tackle.
LINEBACKER: The Gamecock linebacking corps takes on a vastly different look in 2006. Gone are the likes of Lance Laury, Ricardo Hurley and Terrell Davis to graduation and Dustin Lindsey to academics. Youth will be served in the linebacker position, as Rahmel Walker is the only senior on the depth chart. Sophomore Marvin Sapp is listed at the top of the depth chart at the “Stinger” outside linebacker position, while junior Cody Wells is the projected starter at the “Wolf” slot. Junior college transfer Jasper Brinkley is expected to make an immediate impact and is listed as the starter in the middle entering spring drills. Yvan Banag saw considerable action as a true freshman last fall and backs up Sapp. “Mike” linebacker Curtis Rice is the only other `backer who saw significant action a year ago. He is listed on the second team behind Brinkley. A trio of redshirt freshmen will vie for playing time this fall. Kerry Bonds, who worked at defensive end last year, moves into the middle, while Brent Davis and Gerrod Sinclair will get a look on the outside. A pair of juniors, Greg Wright and Marcus Davis add depth.
CORNERBACK: Look for senior Fred Bennett to be the leader at the cornerback position this fall. Bennett was an honorable mention all-league selection a year ago after intercepting three balls and breaking up 10 passes. He has seven picks over the past two seasons. Versatile sophomore Carlos Thomas enters the spring as the projected starter opposite Bennett. A gifted athlete, Thomas spent much of his true freshman season on the offensive side of the ball at wide receiver, but picked off a D.J. Shockley pass at Georgia in his limited time at corner. He will look to fill the vacated spot of Johnathan Joseph, who bypassed his senior campaign to turn pro. Sophomore Stoney Woodson is the only other returning cornerback with playing experience. Woodson recovered a fumble in the end zone at Tennessee, which was a key play in USC’s upset of the Volunteers. Redshirt freshman Jeremy Ware will push to get into the rotation, while walk-ons Nitron Stork, Aubrey McKay and Ranzino Valentine add depth.
SAFETY: Possibly the biggest hole on the squad to fill in 2006 will be replacing All-American Ko Simpson at the rover position. Simpson was far and away the top tackler on the squad last season, registering over 100 stops, and had a penchant for making the big play. Free safety Tremaine Tyler graduated, leaving both safety positions wide open entering the spring. Senior Brandon Isaac figures to be the heir apparent to Simpson. Isaac has experience at both the cornerback and safety positions. He was hampered by an injured shoulder last fall and may be limited some in the spring, but should be ready to go this fall. Grayshirt Mychal Belcher is listed as the starter at free safety entering the spring. Belcher did not compete last fall, but joined the squad in time for the practices leading up to the bowl game. The free safety position should be hotly contested, as Belcher will try to hold off the likes of juniors Ty Erving and Chris Hampton. Erving played sparingly last fall, while Hampton made five starts early in the 2005 season, but was bothered by an ankle injury during the season’s second half. Mike West played in all 12 games, starting eight from a linebacker position last fall, but will get a look at the rover position this spring. Redshirt freshman Damien Wright and senior Jerod June, who earned a scholarship last fall, will push to get in the mix as well.
The Gamecocks were solid but not spectacular on special teams last season. Josh Brown handled both the punting and placekicking duties and was consistent throughout the season. Ryan Succop handled the kickoff chores and recorded a touchback on nearly half of his kicks.
PLACEKICKER: The Gamecocks will have to replace the solid Josh Brown at placekicker. Brown connected on 10-of-12 field goals a year ago, including a huge 49-yarder to defeat Tennessee. Sophomore Ryan Succop will have the first shot to replace Brown. Succop has a big leg, but misfired on both of his field goal attempts in 2005. Jordan Dodds, Thomas Hooper, Charlie Carpenter and Josh Epps will all challenge Succop in what should be an interesting competition to watch this spring. Whoever wins the job will work with the veteran placement team of short snapper Scott Morgan and holder Ike Crofoot. Nathan Pepper is a solid backup snapper.
PUNTER: As at placekicker, Ryan Succop will get the first opportunity to replace Josh Brown as the squad’s punter in 2006. Redshirt freshman Charles Brady figures to provide the primary competition in spring camp. Senior Ike Crofoot is a veteran long snapper who is very reliable with his snaps and is often the first player down the field on coverage. Nathan Pepper and Scott Morgan are dependable backups.