COLUMBIA -- Steve Spurrier knows better than anyone that the biggest key to running a dynamic, air-it-out offensive attack is a beefy, veteran offensive line.
Entering his third year as South Carolina's football coach, he's still stuck in the same position -- two good tackles and three question marks in between.
Left tackle Jamon Meredith and right tackle Justin Sorensen are the only two returnees from last year's line, a unit that was maligned early, cycled through several rotations and settled on one look by midseason. The two juniors have the spotlight shining on them heading into 2007 -- not so much for the talent they showed last year, but the expectations heaped on them this year.
"The whole O-line needs to come together and play good, and we have a very good chance of doing that," Sorensen said. "Every player's going to have to play good for us to succeed this year."
"I like the pressure being on us because if we do well then all the glory will come to us," admitted Meredith.
Spurrier constantly tinkered with the line last year, trying to find his best players after two middling offensive performances against Mississippi State and Georgia. Every position was for sale, and with a tweaked playbook also on the agenda, the line was feeling the pressure.
Starting quarterback Blake Mitchell was suspended and the line was faced with adjusting to the more mobile Syvelle Newton under center. It also had to play better despite little experience or face the wrath of the head ball coach.
After surviving a 27-20 scare against Division I-AA Wofford, two things became apparent. Having Newton to run around behind the line helped the newbies adjust, and Meredith and Sorensen needed to be out there as much as possible, no matter who was between them.
When left tackle Gurminder Thind went down with a knee injury, Meredith slid into the spot. That opened a hole for Sorensen at right tackle, and they've been there since.
Coming into the new season, the Gamecocks are replacing three interior linemen after seniors Thomas Coleman, Chris White and Seth Edwards departed. Sophomore Garrett Anderson, senior Web Brown and senior James Thompson seem to be the answers right now.
If nothing else, those three have advice and experience on either end. All they have to do is ask.
"A lot of problems with our offensive line is just about being young," Meredith said. "A lot of our offensive line is young, but they're talented. So once we come together and jell as a unit, we'll be fine."
Meredith and Sorensen are the focal points, but they aren't thumping their chests proclaiming it. Sorensen, 6-foot-7 and 323 pounds from Vancouver Island, British Columbia, said he doesn't like to holler too much in the locker room or on the practice field, while the hulking Meredith (6-5, 295) labeled himself a lead-by-example player.
"I'm not a big rah-rah guy," Meredith said. "I'm not much of a talker. But when it comes down to it, on the field I try to do the best I can and hopefully the other guys will look at me and say, 'Well, he's coming to all his workouts, going to class, maybe I want to follow in those footsteps.'"
Line coach John Hunt was pleased he had two positions locked but recognized the struggle in replacing the interior. While left tackle (protecting the quarterback's blind side) has become a premier position and the Gamecocks have a good one in Meredith, that doesn't mean anything if a linebacker can just vault over the middle.
"For whatever reason, the last two years we've started extremely slow and then we've played our best ball at the end of the year," Hunt said. "We'd just kind of like to do it faster. (Sorensen and Meredith) have been great. They want to start better because they still feel poorly about the start last year."
Sorensen and Meredith live next to each other and describe their relationship as friendly, but not hanging out all the time. They have their own circle of friends and don't try to band the offensive line into one group, although they have one ritual.
"We go out to eat an awful lot," grinned Sorensen. "We go to Wild Wings for 2-for-1 Wing Night."
They are a regular staple at the restaurant and say the waitresses sometimes hide when they see them walking in. Not many can blame them. Sorensen said one night over the summer had empty wing platters stacked like flapjacks on the table.
"Oh yeah, we got Wing Night," said Meredith. "He can probably put down a lot more than me. I probably can't put down more than 20. But he can go about 50."