WIDE, BUT NOT DEEP?
As much as Gamecock fans have reason to be concerned about Blake Mitchell's mental state, there is another, perhaps more pressing worry: Who is going to replace Sidney Rice? Or at least take the place of his prolific production.
Looking at the numbers -- which don't quite capture the importance of Rice to the Gamecocks -- show his impact. In 2006, Rice accounted for fully 33.4 percent of South Carolina's receiving yards, and an eye-popping 41.7 percent of its receiving TDs. (In fairness, half of Rice's 10 scores came in a brutal beatdown of Florida Atlantic.) Rice also led the team with 83.8 yards a game -- a full 16 yards better than the next-best receiver on the team.
That brings us to the next-best receiver in 2006: Kenny McKinley.
For sure, McKinley is the player with the best shot at taking Rice's place in the offense. The only other player with more than 50 catches on the team (he had 51), McKinley had 880 yards and 5 touchdowns and averaged 67.7 yards a game. At 6' even, there are questions about whether he has the height to move from the slot, where he thrived last year as the No. 2. But one way or another, he will have to step up.
Heir to the throne?
In this respect, one of his stats is encouraging: McKinley averaged 17.3 yard a catch, a full two yards more than Rice. Some doubts do linger with C&F, who is normally a McKinley booster. Mostly, he wonders whether McKinley has the ability or body control to make the acrobatic catches that defined Rice's tenure at South Carolina. And if there's anything that is necessary to be the No. 1 receiver on a team with Blake Mitchell as QB, it's the ability to make acrobatic catches.
One player who will also make the transition easier is RB Cory Boyd, who grabbed 35 passes for 406 yards and 2 TDs last year and could take some of the heat off McKinley, particularly with short dump-off throws if the defense is swarming McKinley.
But there's only so much relief that passing to the running back can provide for McKinley. Someone else will have to step up. And the list is, well, somewhat thin. The only other players to catch for more than 100 yards last season were the departed Noah Whiteside (114) and returners Freddie Brown (147) and Jared Cook (113).
Cook is looking at a possible move to tight end, though, and there are questions about where the 6'2" Brown will end up on the depth chart.
JUCO transfer Larry Freeman, measuring 6'1", is expected to contribute, as is incoming freshman Chris Culliver. Mark Barnes, another signee, could be a wide receiver or a cornerback. Jason Barnes and Joseph Hills have the stature to also make plays.
And this all assumes no injuries. Having to go without McKinley (or Freeman or Culliver) could be huge blows to the team if no one else is ready to take over.
Spurrier could opt to go another year with more of a ball-control offense than he might prefer, but C&F is pretty confident that won't be the case.
So it's quite simple: No matter who it is -- Freeman, Culliver, one of the Barneses, Hills or Brown -- someone has to become a reliable enough No. 2 so that McKinley doesn't face double- and triple-coverage in passing situations. And McKinley has to do what Gamecock fans and coaches thought as recently as last November wouldn't be necessary until at least next year.
He'll have to replace Sidney Rice.