When spring practice opened 12 days ago, few spots on the South Carolina offensive line were settled. After seven practices, that's still the case.
However, offensive line coach John Hunt says he's witnessed much-needed improvement from his maligned unit following last season's disappointing performance.
"We're coming along a little quicker than we did last year," Hunt said. "That's very encouraging. We've had fewer mental errors. The fact that most of our guys have had one more year in the system and one more year with Mark Smith in the weight room has really helped. We still have a ways to go, though."
Left tackle, regarded by many coaches as the most important position on the offensive line, is currently a two-way battle between redshirt sophomore Hutch Eckerson, who sat out last season after playing as a true freshman, and redshirt freshman Quintin Richardson.
Those two are competing to replace Jamon Meredith for at least the first two games since the senior from Simpsonsville has to sit out the first two games as a condition of the NCAA granting his request for a medical hardship in 2004.
"I've told Jamon that I'm not mad at him or anything but I have to find out who's going to play that spot," Hunt said.
Right now, Eckerson enjoys an edge due to his previous experience, Hunt said.
"Both (Eckerson and Richardson) are very athletic," Hunt said. "Hutch has an advantage because he's been in the offense a little longer than Quintin. But it will be interesting to see how it plays out the rest of the spring. I told Hutch and Quintin that whoever I roll out there for the first game is going to earn it here in the spring."
The left guard position has changed considerably since the pre-spring depth chart was released in early March. Initially, Seaver Brown was listed as the first team left guard with the snake-bitten Kevin Young and Pierre Andrews listed behind the redshirt sophomore from Clearwater, Fla.
But Brown is currently the first-team center with the inconsistent Garrett Anderson struggling to return from a back injury.
"Seaver is getting a lot of reps in there," Hunt said. "He's doing an admirable job, but he still needs to get better. We've been double-training him as a center. I moved him into center to try to compete with Garrett, but right now it's not much of a competition because Garrett hasn't played."
Young is out for the spring with another back injury and faces the prospect of undergoing his third surgery since he arrived at USC in 2006.
As a result of the upheaval, Hunt moved junior Lemuel Jeanpierre to left guard from his customary right guard spot, where he started five games last season.
Anderson started the spring as the first-team center, but is trying to overcome an inflamed disc in his back. But even before he was hurt, Anderson was hardly drawing rave reviews from Hunt.
"Garrett's a little nicked up and he hasn't been able to take the snaps," Hunt said. "That's been a little bit disappointing. By no means has Garrett earned the center spot at all. He still has to prove to us that he can play the way that we coach, which has been his nemesis. With him being injured, he hasn't gotten a chance to prove that."
The third-team center is 270-pound Ryan Broadhead, who joined the program 14 months ago as a greyshirt. He's still trying to find his niche entering his redshirt freshman campaign.
"He's probably a year away," Hunt said. "But he does everything we ask for and he's tough as nails. But he has had a difficult problem holding weight. He's going to be OK. But he's a little ways away weight-wise."
Hunt has been searching for a position for Meredith, and he may have found one at right guard. Heath Batchelor, who performed well there as the starter in the final three regular season games, holds down the top spot.
"Heath finished off the (2007) year pretty solid and is having a pretty good spring for us right now" Hunt said. "He's done a lot of good things this spring. I hate to say it's solid, but I feel pretty good about that spot there."
The right tackle spot has been a hard-fought battle between senior Justin Sorensen and redshirt freshman Kyle Nunn throughout the first seven workouts of the spring.
"Obviously, Justin has the most experience," Hunt said. 'He hasn't had the most stellar spring so far, but he's very smart and understands the game. He's tough."
Meredith has also seen some snaps at right tackle, his former position.
"I put him at right tackle and right guard to get a few reps over there," Hunt said. "If either Hutch or Quinton play well at left tackle, that will free me up t do some things with Jamon. He's very intelligent and has already played both right and left tackle for us. He knows what to do."
Sorensen bring experience to the table with 18 consecutive starts at the position, but Nunn, who has impressed Hunt with his work ethic and willingness to listen and follow instructions, is nipping at his heels.
"Kyle is going to be OK. He's going to be a big 'ol joker," Hunt said. "He's going to be a fine player for us. He just has to get a littler bigger and stronger and learn what to do. This is his first spring trying to understand the big picture. He's not quite there yet, but when he foes he'll be a solid player for us."
Redshirt sophomore Pierre Andrews and converted defensive lineman Terrence Campbell both face uphill battles to make an impact this season.
"Terrence is coming along. He's finally starting to grasp the offense," Hunt said. "When you have a guy switching sides, it's difficult.He's slowly getting it. I'm encouraged by Terrence. But he still has a long ways to go, but he's headed in the right direction."
Andrews signed with USC in 2006. He appeared in one game last season.
"Pierre has been doing a lot of good things. He's very coachable," Hunt said. "He tries to do things exactly the way he's been coached. Hopefully, he'll keep progressing."
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