Saturday, July 14, 2007

DRAWING A LINE


If you had tried to sketch the Gamecocks' offensive line for 2007 at the end of last year -- the group of five individuals responsible for defending Blake Mitchell from the pass rushes devised by minds like Pelini, Strong and Chavis -- you, sadly, would have gotten something like the diagram above.

Jamon Meredith and Justin Sorensen are locked in at the two tackle positions, at least to start the season.

Beyond that, the outlines of who will start have only recently started to emerge. Web Brown, witnessed here exuding confidence about South Carolina's shot at the SEC crown, will start at center. Spurrier has pegged Lemuel Jeanpierre, a converted defensive lineman, as a likely starter at guard. Garrett Anderson seems to be the pick to end up opposite Jeanpierre.

Quintin Richardson, a possible backup, is in a world of trouble, not all of his own making. None of the other prospective linemen are highly regarded, at least by the punditry.

All of which led Spurrier to issue this bit of cheer and merriment: "We're in dire straits (on) the offensive line right now. We're not very good. It's as simple as that."


Another Mr. Sunshine.

Not that a lot of returning starters would have necessarily been a good thing. The Gamecocks allowed 31 sacks for a total loss of 204 yards in 2006. That's seven more sacks for 55 more yards than the South Carolina defense managed in those same 13 games.

Twice -- against Mississippi State and Auburn -- the o-line allowed four sacks in a game.

This is one reason why Spurrier decided to go with Syvelle Newton -- his ability to "scramble," or, more appropriately, "run for his life."


Never a good decision.

Spurrier didn't feel confident enough in his line to put Mitchell back under center until the Arkansas game, the ninth game of the year.

There is no Syvelle Newton this year, though Stephen Garcia could prove to be a mobile QB -- assuming he makes it onto the field before landing in a state correctional institution. So barring Mitchell's unlikely transformation into a Michael Vick clone -- sans the whole dog-fighting thing -- the line will have to block this year.

The running game didn't appear to have much of a problem last year, with Cory Boyd and Mike Davis sharing the load as they piled up more than 1,300 yards. Newton added another 451 yards. It will be interesting to see if Boyd, who will now be the feature back, can replicate that success behind this group.

Oh, and there's not much in-season time to learn. After La-La on Sept. 1, the Gamecocks head to Georgia, catch a possible breather at S.C. State -- remember Wofford? -- and then travel to the bayou to face LSU, which will probably once again have a Pro-Bowl All-SEC caliber defense.

Is it possible that the o-line is being made to look bad in practice by the defensive line? Yes. But it is also possible that the defensive could be looking better than it should in practice because parts of the offense, including the line, are underperforming.

At least the linemen seem to recognize the challenge:

Brown, who gets the first crack at center, said the linemen have been getting together to help accelerate the chemistry-building process.
"Everybody's excited. Everybody's working hard and trying to get ready for this fall. There's still a lot of work to be done," said Brown, a fifth-year senior from Boonville, N.C. "We're starting to go over drills and plays together. We're starting to come together and jell. That’s what we want to do. From an O-line standpoint, we want to be ready."

Whether South Carolina is ready to challenge for the SEC title depends on it.

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