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July 21, 2006

Cook(ing) up something tasty at tight end

The following is the eighth in a series of position previews.

After years of neglect, the tight end position could experience a renaissance for South Carolina this season.

You can credit redshirt freshman Jared Cook for the change in thinking.

Recruited to USC as a wide receiver, Cook has the size (6-5, 230 pounds) and pass-catching ability to become something the Gamecocks have lacked for years - an offensive-minded tight end that forces opposing defenses to pay attention.

Jonathan Hannah was expected to fill that role but he quickly fell out of favor with the USC coaches last fall for his poor work habits and has transferred to North Carolina State.

Cook, who possesses excellent speed for a man his size, was one of the top 40 wide receivers in the country - as rated by Rivals.com - when he starred for North Gwinnett High School in Suwanee, Ga., two seasons ago.

With South Carolina enjoying an abundance of wide receivers this season, head coach Steve Spurrier knew the best chance to get Cook on the field was to shift him over to tight end.

Cook agreed to make the move and was so impressive during spring practice that Spurrier raved about his talents to audiences throughout the month-long Gamecock Club tour.

"Jared Cook had a chance to become a big-time tight end," Spurrier often said.

Spurrier certainly envisions Cook as someone who can stretch the middle of the field and allow USC's array of wide receivers - starting, of course, with superstar Sidney Rice - more room to run their routes.

The 2005 season started well for senior Andy Boyd as he caught a touchdown pass in the season opener against Central Florida. Boyd has two career receptions and both have been for touchdowns.

But his luck changed the following week when he suffered a hyperextended right knee at Georgia and missed the remainder of the season.

Boyd underwent surgery in November for an ACL injury and missed spring practice while recovering. He is expected to be close to 100 percent healthy when fall camp opens.

Spurrier has been pleased with Boyd's progress this summer as he battles back from his injury.

"Andy is doing well. He's back from his injury," Spurrier said. "He's not quite 100 percent. But Andy is a good leader. He's a solid tight end. It's good the have Andy back."

Two weeks ago, the buzz was that Boyd had given up his final year of eligibility at USC and accepted a graduate assistant position at East Carolina. But those reports were untrue.

After Boyd and Hannah went down with injuries last season, the tight end job fell to junior Robert Pavlovic, one of three Canadian players (Gurminder Thind and Justin Sorensen are the others).

Pavlovic enjoyed a moderate level of success (2 receptions for 18 yards) before injuries and ineffectiveness forced the coaches to hand the starting job to walk-on Carson Askins.

Pavlovic looked like a different player in the spring. His pass-catching skills appeared greatly improved and defenses had to watch him when he floated away from the line of scrimmage.

Even quarterback Blake Mitchell noticed the improvement and praised the Mississauga, Ontario, native after one impressive performance in a scrimmage this spring.

Typically, walk-ons don't pose much of a threat to scholarship players when it comes to stealing playing time. But Foxy Foxworth is not your typical walk-on.

A Shrine Bowl player from Wando High School in Mt. Pleasant, Foxworth received offers from a pair of I-AA schools in the Palmetto State (The Citadel and Coastal Carolina) but instead chose to roll the dice and try his hand at the top level of major college football.

Recognized by many as the top blocking tight end in the state last season, Foxworth hopes to impress the coaches enough to earn playing time in 2006.

His goal, though, is to earn the right to start a game this season.

"I don't see why I shouldn't go in there with that attitude," Foxworth said. "That's exactly why I'm going in there. I've been working real hard in the off-season. I think they need some help at tight end."

The final candidate is David Laggis, who was switched to tight end last fall. He did not catch any passes and will have to battle hard for playing time this season.

PROBABLE STARTER: Jared Cook.

RESERVES: Andy Boyd, Robert Pavlovic, David Laggis.

PROJECTED REDSHIRTS: None.

WALK-ONS: Foxy Foxworth, Alex McGrath.

Other in-depth position previews:

Defensive line trying to find weight balance
Three new starters means fresh start for linebackers
Rice looking to top spectacular freshman season
White will anchor inexperienced offensive line
Gamecock backfield primed for success
Pressure's on Bennett to lead youthful secondary
Battle to become Mitchell's backup will be fierce

- Give GamecockCentral.com a try. Take advantage of our 7-Day Free Trial.


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