March 26, 2008

Garcia's Absence Helps Smelley, Beecher

Chris Smelley and Tommy Beecher both consider Stephen Garcia as a good friend.

But there's an awkward side to the decision of South Carolina athletic director Eric Hyman to suspend the heralded redshirt freshmen until Aug. 15 - both of them may become better quarterbacks.

How? The absence of Garcia will give the pair more snaps in practice for the duration of the spring. After Wednesday night's workout, USC has 11 practices remaining, including the April 19 Garnet and Black game.

"We're definitely getting a lot more reps," Smelley said. "Tommy and I have taken all the reps since Stephen hasn't been here. it can't hurt you, taking more reps."

Spurrier described the competition between Smelley and Beecher as "pretty close." Smelley has been with the program since the summer of 2006, while Beecher is now his fourth year with the program.

"It's good to have guys who have been here three or four years," Spurrier said. "They're about the same size. They run about the same. If we had to start the season tomorrow, they'll both be ready. Both may play a lot since they're close talent-wise."

As Spurrier pointed out, lost in all the hoopla over Garcia's plight is the fact he's never taken a snap for USC in a game. He was suspended last spring before redshirting. Now he won't be allowed to return until the Gamecocks are halfway through fall camp.

"I'm sure Stephen Garcia has set a record for the most publicity for a South Carolina football player that has never played a down," Spurrier said. "Maybe we ought to talk about the guys who have played. These (current) quarterbacks are getting better. They're getting a lot of snaps. In the long run, it's going to help both (Smelley and Beecher).

Spurrier explained that he allowed the university to make the decision on what sanctions to impose on Garcia because the infractions happened inside the dorms and were unrelated to the football team.

"I thought Stephen should be treated like every other student," Spurrier said. "His problem occurred inside the dorm. I did not want o influence what kind of discipline he would receive. I thought in this case, the university should make the call and I was going accept whatever it was. He has a lot of things to do to return. I guess we'll find out if he can accomplish all of these requirements to come back in August."

Spurrier acknowledged Garcia needed counseling to work though his personal problems, and that Garcia has maintained he will "try his best" to fulfill all of the conditions.

"We're going to see if he can change his ways," Spurrier said. "We'll wait and see if that happens. He may or may not be back. He says he's going to try."

Smelley, who led USC to a 4-2 mark in his six starts, wouldn't go so far as to say he's been a forgotten man while everyone else, it seems, was caught up in Garcia.

"You wish everybody could stay out of trouble, but unfortunately it doesn't always happen that way," said Smelley, who istill nursing a sore shoulder. "We had a talk the first day of spring practice about not losing focus and not letting outside distractions affect us.

"I played well at times last year and I feel I've earned the respect of my teammates. I feel I've had a great spring. My shoulder was questionable coming in because I wasn't sure how it would respond to making all these throws out here. But it's done better than I expected."

Although Garcia's suspension will benefit him, Beecher still felt bad for Garcia, one of the most heralded signees in USC history.

"He's real disappointed and upset," Beecher said. "We're good friends. I talk with him every day. I talked with him just before practice today. Both Chris and I want him out here. In the sense there's only two quarterbacks, so there's less pressure.

But we'd like a three-way battle at quarterback. Chris and I will certainly get more experience because of (the suspension). I know I'm sweating a lot more and working a lot harder. Coach Reaves talked with us. Chris and I will get more reps and we can get more comfortable with the offense."

Another quarterback who may benefit from Garcia's suspension is incoming freshman Aramis Hillary, a dual threat QB from Strom Thurmond High School who logged 2,400 yards passing and 900 yards as a senior in 2007.

Spurrier said Wednesday night that Hillary will likely open fall camp as the No. 3 QB behind Smelley and Garcia. Hillary attended Wednesday's practice and spent most of the time beside Spurrier soaking up the knowledge.

In fact, Hillary has attended three of the first four practices, as well as several quarterback meetings, making the two-hour round trip from Johnston, S.C. each time.

"He likes to come to just about every practice," Spurrier said. "He's our third man right now, so I'm coaching him on the side when we're doing our stuff. He loves everything about football. He'll be ready to go. We're going to give him a playbook this weekend."

Spurrier expects Reid McCollum of Summerville will redshirt in 2008. But Hillary could play in 2008, just like Smelley did as a true freshman in 2006.

"He's been around a lot," Smelley said. "Everyone says he looks like Adrian Peterson out here. He's a pretty big dude. He looks like he;s ready to get out here."

: There was plenty of shoulder pads popping during the 11-on-11 session of Wednesday's night workout on the Bluff Road Practice fields.

Justin Sorensen and Travian Robertson engaged in a brief scuffle in which punches were thrown following the third play of the 11-on-11 session.

Later, Eric Norwood blew up Moe Brown on a reverse with a sold hit. Finally, Mark Barnes did a full somersault after helping to bring down Eric Baker late in the session.

"We had a pretty decent practice. Guys were bumping into each other pretty hard tonight," Spurrier said. "But nobody got hurt. We had one scuffle that ended quickly. A few punches were thrown but none connected."

Smelley was 2-of-5 passing during the 11-on-11 with completions to Larry Freeman on a rollout pass and to Joseph Hills. Beecher was 3-of-7 with connections to tight ends Jared Cook and Weslye Saunders and WR Matt Clements.

Smelley was nearly perfect in the 7-on-7 portion of practice, completing 11 of 12 passes. Beecher was 7-of-11.

USC ran reverses to Moe Brown on three occasions. With Chris Culliver shifted to defense, Brown may take over that role as the Gamecocks' primary ballhandler on reverses.

OL Heath Batchelor missed Wednesday's practice as punishment for his alleged minor role in the consumption of alcohol that led to Garcia's suspension.

"He was involved in that," Spurrier said. "But if his story is correct, that's not a fair deal. He just walked up and was with those guys that were drinking beer. They decided to nab him just like they did Garcia. That's his story. He had to serve his suspension."

LAWING ENJOYING HIMSELF MORE: With 11 scholarship defensive linemen on the spring roster, defensive line coach Brad Lawing has plenty of bodies to work with this spring. He just lost Eric Norwood to linebacker, but he gained Cliff Matthews, a player Lawing believes can become a special player.

As the players gain experience, the practice sessions become more enjoyable for Lawing, who is entering his third season as defensive line coach.

"We're so far ahead of where we were last year simply because we have more veteran players," Lawing said. "Last year we had four new guys who were trying to transition into the program. That was tough to do, but we needed it because we didn't have anybody else. We're a lot further ahead now, in our drill work, our fundamentals, and our schemes. The kids just recall so much better now."

With so many players at his disposal, Lawing couldn't help but reflect back to 2006 when he had to scratch and claw just to get through the spring,

"My first year here, we had no depth," Lawing said. "We were trying to invent D-linemen. Last year we had some depth with guys who hadn't played. Now we have depth with guys who have played."

Lawing recently lost Eric Norwood when he was moved to outside linebacker, but gained 6-foot-4 Cliff Matthews in the exchange. Lawing said he has no problem with the decision.

"We are a team, and whatever is best for the team," Lawing said. "I'm the D-line coach, but I'm also an Assistant coach for this team, so whatever makes our team better, that's all I'm concerned with. We don't have any egos on our staff. Cliff has tremendous potential and he can be every bit as good or better than Eric."

Marque Hall struggled last season trying to come back from a knee injury sustained in the second game of 2006, but appears close to full health this spring.

"He's getting better. He's still not where he needs to be," Lawing said. "They cleaned it up around Christmas and I anticipate him being fully healthy by the fall."

Lawing expects the four freshmen from last season - Ladi Ajiboye, Clifton Geathers, Travian Robertson and Matthews - to exhibit substantial improvement over last spring.

"They should definitely step it up," Lawing said. "Ladi was the only one really ready to play last year. I'm kind of glad we played Travian and Clifton, because they got some game experience under them, but we really should have red-shirted both of them. But that's where we were in our program. We had needs and it is what it is."

MADDOX READY FOR PLAYING TIME: For the first time in years, Brian Maddox had to stand on the sidelines in 2007 and watch other running backs carry the football. He had just six carries for 14 yards last season while also playing special teams. But with Cory Boyd graduated, this year could be a different story for the T.L. Hanna High product.

"I'm looking at this spring as a lot of opportunities are out there," Maddox said. "I talk to my Dad every night and he just tells me to come out and work hard and work on my game. It was hard knowing I had to sit back and watch a little bit, but I did that in the ninth grade when I was behind Raffeal Little at Anderson."

Maddox has impressed his coaches and teammates with his willingness to run up the middle into the teeth of the defense. But Maddox is also productive on the perimeter.

"I like running up the middle more, but when you get out in space you should make things happen," Maddox said.

Maddox said the Stephen Gracia situation has made the younger players like himself more conscious of how they handle themselves in public.

"Eric Norwood had a little meeting after Saturday's practice and addressed it with the younger players and just said we need to stay out of trouble and focus on what we have in front of us," Maddox said. "It shows that he cares a lot and we listen to the coaches to, but we just have to correct those problems."

BEAMER TALKS MORE ABOUT THE CORNERBACKS: With injuries to Captain Munnerlyn and Stoney Woodson, and the suspension of Carlos Thomas (he returned to practice to Monday night), cornerbacks coach Shane Beamer has had an opportunity to work with several young prospects in the first three workouts of spring practice.

"The young guys need all the reps they can get, so it helps there," Beamer said. "Addison Williams and Akeem Auguste have done good jobs. We worked Chris Hail some today. We're excited about the group so far, and we just want to keep getting better every day.

Woodson suffered a hamstring injury in the first spring practice and redshirt freshman Jamire Williams sprained an ankle, but has returned to practice. Beamer believes the secondary has a nice blend and experience and youth.

"With Stoney, Captain, and Carlos back in the mix, that gives you three good ones right there who have played a lot of snaps," Beamer said. "Then you throw in these young guys and we'll have a good group of cornerbacks and safeties. And we'll have more freshmen coming in at corner and safety. We'll have depth that we didn't have at the end of last season."

Beamer is please so far with the depth provided by true freshmen Antonio Allen and Akeem Auguste.

"We haven't had a lot of depth in the past and it really hurt us in some games," Beamer said. "It really helps to have Allen and Auguste. We would really be in a bind right now, with the injuries, if they were not here. They've had a year in prep school. Coach Shuman at Fork Union has done a great job getting those guys ready. They pick things up real well and have some maturity."

Practices Held - 4
Practices Left - 11
Next Practice - Fri., March 28, 4:15 p.m.


-- Gamecock Central has learned OL Kevin Young injured his shoulder in Monday night's workout and will a miss the remainder of spring practice. He wore a yellow jersey during Wednesday's practice.

-- DT Ladi Ajiboye missed Wednesday night's practice due to a "high temperature", Spurrier said. In his absence, Jonathan Williams worked with the first-team defense.

-- RB Mike Davis had a class conflict and missed Wednesday's practice.

-- Several recruits from Marlboro County attended Wednesday night's practice, including Tariq and Tyrell Edwards and Kinsman Thomas.

-- Walk-on QB Zac Brindise returned to practice for the first time since he was charged with underaged drinking along with Stephen Garcia.

-- The four players fielding punts Wednesday were Akeem Auguste, Dion Lecorn, Charles Whitlock, and Kenny McKinley. Of course, Captain Munnerlyn should return to fielding punts once he returns from his foot injury.

-- Spurrier confirmed after Wednesday's practice that Jamon Meredith took some snaps at guard. He started all 12 games last season at left tackle. "He ought to be able to play all four positions," Spurrier said. "He's in his fourth year."

-- Former Gamecock football players Corey Peoples, Corey Jenkins and Jermaine Harris attended Wednesday's practice.

-- The first-team offensive line during the 11-on-11 period was LT Hutch Eckerson, LG Lemuel Jeanpierre, C Seaver Brown, RG Jamon Meredith, RT Justin Sorensen.

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