College Sports

South Carolina looks to solidify offensive line

South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier's team opens against Louisiana-Lafayette.
South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier's team opens against Louisiana-Lafayette.

COLUMBIA -- It's generally not a good idea to start thinking about last year when preparing for a new season. Doesn't make sense to re-live mistakes when you've still got an opportunity to correct them.

But Steve Spurrier doesn't have much choice when it comes to South Carolina's offensive line.

"We'll probably play at least nine or 10 players," Spurrier said Tuesday, five days before the Gamecocks host Louisiana-Lafayette in their season-opener. "We need to let them all play in the real game and then go from there and see who the best players are."

Spurrier's concern comes from the unpleasantness of last year, when poor execution and effort during the season's first two games caused a mixup of the line. Spurrier threw in new faces and benched veterans, although when it became apparent the newbies were in over their heads, he reshuffled again.

USC went 4-2 in its first six games of 2006, but the line didn't get settled until the Oct. 7 Kentucky game. Getting his line as set as possible now and immediately after Saturday's game is one of Spurrier's biggest priorities.

Although it's not as bad as it was last year.

"I think we're farther along in the offensive line than we've been at any time since we've been here," he said. "We think they know what to do."

The depth chart Tuesday listed returnees Justin Sorensen (right tackle) and Jamon Meredith (left tackle) anchoring the line with three new faces in between. Sophomore Garrett Anderson takes over at left guard with senior James Thompson at right, and senior Web Brown at center.

Spurrier mentioned he'd be playing Gurminder Thind, Kevin Young, Lemuel Jeanpierre and Hutch Eckerson as well to see who was the most game-ready. There's also the possibility of a shakeup before the game, as evidenced last year when Thompson was suspended for four games a day before the team left for its season-opener at Mississippi State.

But as of today, the line seemed to be ready. Taking the progress from the practice field to Williams-Brice Stadium is the next step.

"I would say what he's looking for is who's going to go in there and who's going to play the game," Brown said. "Who's going to go out there, who's going to earn their starting job, who wants to play next week."

The rotation will hopefully only last one week, due to O-line coach John Hunt's preferences to play one five-man group the majority of the season. With five set linemen, it's easier to plan for strengths and weaknesses and design an offensive game plan around them.

With a revolving door in the interior, and breaking in quarterbacks Chris Smelley and Tommy Beecher besides, Saturday's game has become a two-part mission.

One, win. Two, find the best five for the looming doozy of a first SEC game -- at No. 13 Georgia on Sept. 8.

Hunt says he's confident the cream will rise to the top because of better conditioning and attitudes in preseason camp. Although he'd prefer to not be shuttling players in and out on every series, he'd rather do it now than in a conference game.

"I think the fact that we've had more guys in the program that have been in the system at least a year, had a spring under their belt, had the benefit of going under strength and conditioning with (coach) Mark Smith down there, all that's going to help to start faster," Hunt said. "And the fact that I'm constantly emphasizing it."

Brown agreed.

"We're looking for a big group of guys who are going to go in there and play as hard as they can and do some consistent things," said Brown, who moved from guard to center after Chester native Chris White graduated. "Coach Hunt always stresses that he wants guys to be together as a group. Either we're all right or we're all wrong."

Brown also has a little more on his plate, having to adjust to a new QB behind him and taking over for White, who started 41 games during his career. Replacing the heart and soul of last year's line isn't easy.

"Chris, he's a really good role model," Brown said. "He played mean on the field. There were a lot of times when he didn't have anybody to pass-block, so he'd just go hit somebody just because he could.

"That's what I have to do now."


• When: 7 p.m. Saturday

• Where: Williams-Brice Stadium, Columbia

• TV: Pay-per-view

• Tickets: Available at 1-800-4SC-FANS