March 31, 2008

Spurrier: Academics First For Three Players

Steve Spurrier is trying to teach his players that academics are important, too.

That's why three players - Bobby Wallace, Dustin Lindsey and Chris Hail - have been required to hit the books rather than participate in weeknight practice sessions with the South Carolina football team this spring.

"They're doing a little extra academic work," Spurrier said following Monday night's two-hour workout on the Bluff Road practice fields. "Those guys are on the bubble and there's no sense practicing if they're not going to be here next year. We're trying to ensure that they'll be here.

"But they'll practice on the weekends. They're weekend spring practice players now."

Asked if those three players were in danger of becoming academically ineligible for next fall, Spurrier said they "had to do some work. They have to pass some stuff and make certain grades."

When asked where USC stood as far as the A.P.R. (Academic Performance Review) is concerned, Spurrier acknowledged USC "could be OK or we could lose one of two" scholarships.

"I may depend on those three guys a little bit," he said.

Wallace was one of a group of players that included former quarterback Blake Mitchell forced to sit out a practice last fall for issues related to class attendance.

He had only five carries in 2006, one of them an 88-yard TD scamper against Middle Tennessee State, after 41 rushing attempts in 2005.

"Bobby Wallace is always on the bubble academically," Spurrier said. "But he has made it thus far. So, we're certainly hoping and believing he'll make it again."

After starting four games at middle linebacker in 2005, Lindsey missed the entire 2006 season for academic concerns. He suffered a serious knee injury in last year's Garnet and Black game and, after undergoing surgery, played only a few snaps early in the 2007 season before shutting it down.

Wallace and Lindsey are both listed as seniors in USC's spring media guide.

Hail was used primarily on special teams and as a reserve defensive back in 2007. He also played wide receiver in 2006 and was credited with three receptions.

Since they were required to hit the books, all three players missed Monday night's soggy workout on the Bluff Road practice fields.

"It wasn't bad. We actually got some pretty decent practice stuff in tonight," Spurrier said. "The weather was very good. It was cool but not cold."

USC spent several segments working on special teams under the watchful eye of special teams coordinator Ray Rychleski.

After watching the film of Saturday's 75-minute scrimmage at Williams-Brice Stadium, Spurrier commented, "it wasn't too bad, but it wasn't too good".

USC will conduct the second open scrimmage Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at Williams-Brice Stadium.

"It was a start," Spurrier said about last Saturday's scrimmage. "We had a lot of stuff to work on. It's all practice right no, trying to get better. Hopefully, it will show up during the season."

SAUNDERS BECOMING SERIOUS TIGHT END THREAT: Perhaps the biggest story of the spring so far has been the emergence of 6-foot-5, 273-pound sophomore Weslye Saunders as a legitimate receiving threat at tight end. Saunders has proven to be a valuable target for USC's quarterbacks with his combination of size, speed and velcro-like hands.

Saunders says he feels more comfortable after spending one season in the system. He has 12 receptions for 151 yards in 2007, an average of 12.6 yards per catch, and appeared in 11 of 12 games. His best game came against LSU when he hooked up with QB Chris Smelley in the second half for a total of 32 receiving yards on four receptions.

"I pretty much got the offense down last year, along with Jared (Cook)," Saunders said. "Now knowing the plays, we can just go out there and play. I think we will really present some mismatch problems, with him 6-44 and me being 6-5. He runs a 4.3 (in the 40) and I feel like I catch the ball pretty well."

Steve Spurrier and new tight ends coach Ray Rychleski have often stated this spring that Saunders must improve his blocking skills, something he really didn't have to do much in high school.

"Last year, I thought blocking was secondary and I was mostly concerned about my pass catching," Saunders said. "Coach Ray has really helped me. He's pretty tough. He's probably one of the toughest coaches I've ever had to deal with, but I think that's what I needed. He's been a big help to me and I have to thank him. He's taught me not to take plays off."

Saunders was shaken up early in Monday night's practice during a field goal drill but walked off the field under his own power.

Spurrier said Saunders and Cook "were not that good blocking" in Saturday's scrimmage. Overall, though, Spurrier said Saunders has shown improvement in that area since last season.

"He's coming around. He's blocking better," Spurrier said. "They're trying in practice. They're giving more effort trying to block better."

AUGUSTE GLAD TO BE AT USC: True freshman cornerback Akeem Auguste has turned heads with his play through the first seven practices both as a cornerback and punt returner. He enrolled at USC in January after attending Fork Union Military Academy in Chatham, Va. for one semester along with fellow USC signees Eric Baker and Antonio Allen. He left there after attaining the necessary test scores.

"It was marching in the morning, marching in the afternoon, marching at night," Auguste said. "It was march, march, march, march. All I wanted to do was play football. That's my life, basically. But we couldn't go anywhere. We couldn't leave, couldn't do anything."

He hasn't struggled as much as he thought in making the transition from prep school to major college football.

"It's been a jump, but not too big," Auguste said. "We were going up against prep school guys that were just like me. They didn't have the grades. Speed-wise, it is faster here. I cherish every moment. I go out there and go hard every play."

Auguste said the trio of USC signees were celebrities among their Fork Union teammates considering they knew their college destination. Most of the players at the football team were still trying to draw interest from colleges.

"We were basically the only ones at the school that were signed, so everybody was looking up to us," Auguste said. "We weren't celebrities, but we were definitely role models. The academics were very hard there. In high school, I really didn't take (academics) seriously, but I'm now I am. Now I want to stay on track and do what's right and keep everything going in the right direction."

Following Monday night's practice, Spurrier said the three players from Fork Union were "doing fine."

"Akeem is doing well. Eric Baker made some nice cuts tonight," Spurrier said. "He got a lot of work. He's learning our offense. We think he's really going to be a good one. He could play quite a bit, who knows."

Baker has seen his number of practice reps increase with the absence of Mike Davis due to a pulled hamstring, alongwith Taylor Rank.

LANNING EARNING SHOT AT PUNTING JOB: Spencer Lanning, a walk-on from Rock Hill, S.C., appears on his way to securing the punting job, freeing Ryan Succop to handle field goals and kickoffs, two areas in which he excels. Lanning handled the punting duties in Saturday's scrimmage. After three solid punts, his final punt was blocked by Larry Freeman when the blocking broke down

"It feels great. I'm just glad (special teams coordinator) Coach Ray (Rychleski) is giving me the opportunity," Lanning said. "I had two really good punts, the third I got under to much, and the fourth was blocked. It only takes one to get blocked to change a game so we have to stop that."

Succop averaged 41.6 yards for 56 punts last season, landing 15 inside the 20-yard line and forcing 13 fair catches. Opponents averaged 8.0 yards per return. Although Succop did a solid job punting, Rychleski made it known soon after he was hired that he wanted to divide the kicking chores.

"Succop has a killer leg, but Coach Ray came in and said he would like to split it up," Lanning said. "But Succop is definitely qualified to do all three."

Spurrier said following Monday's practice that Lanning has a chance to earn the starting job at punter, but he had to become more consistent.

MOE BROWN IS MORE COMFORTABLE: Moe Brown brought outstanding high school credentials from Westside High School in Anderson, S.C., but he's struggled in his first two seasons at USC with 22 receptions (9 in 2006, 13 in 2007). Brown says he's more comfortable this season and believes he's ready to make a major contribution to the receiving corps.

"I feel like I'm 10 times ahead (of last year) just in terms of understanding our offense and the concepts we try to do," Btwn said. "I'm also understanding better what we're trying to do against defenses. Now, I'm getting better at knowing exactly what I'm supposed to do on each play when I come up to the line. I'm at the point where I don't have to think about it. I can just relax and play. That's the biggest difference this year."

Brown had eight of his 13 receptions in the final three games, including tying his career high with four receptions for 34 yards against Florida. He had a career-high 37 receiving yards in the season finale against Clemson. However, Brown acknowledged he still has a few things to improve on in order to become a top-flight wide receiver in the SEC.

"(Wide receivers coach) Coach Spurrier, Jr. told me he wants me to work on getting open more," Brown said. "He told me I just have to be patient. It's all based on the timing of the quarterback. You don't have to be all that fast and all. It's based on precision. I've been working on that and it's working well so far."

Brown said he was helped by a conversation with top wide receiver Kenny McKinley, who's sitting out the spring with bone spurs in his toe.

"I was telling Kenny (McKinley) it's like things have slowed down for me and then it speeds back up," Brown said. "It's all good right now. Kenny said to just slow down, be patient, and just be an athlete."

Brown believes the younger wide receivers like Jason Barnes, Joseph Hills and Matt Clements will step u this season, as well, after spending a year learning the system.

"Some of these new guys are still learning. They're going through a maturation period," Brown said. "Other than that, we look good."

2008 SPRING PRACTICE COUNTDOWN
Practices Held - 7
Practices Left - 8
Next Practice - Wed., March 31, 7 p.m.

NOTES:

-- USC announced over the weekend that the April 18 Gridiron Bash was cancelled. The company that had organized the series of concerts at various college campuses throughout the country pulled the plug mainly due to poor ticket sales. USC had sold less than 1,000 tickets to the Black Crowes concert scheduled for Williams-Brice Stadium the night before the Garnet and Black game.

-- Vandaral Shackleford did no participate in Monday's workout, but Spurrier didn't have a reason for his absence. "I don't know what happened to Shackleford," Spurrier said. "It's unbeknownst to me. Nobody told me."

-- Freshmen defensive backs Jamire Williams and Jay Spearman sat out Monday's practice with injuries. Williams has a sustained ankle and Spearman is plagued by a bad shoulder.

-- Spurrier reiterated that he won't announce a starting quarterback until the spring game.

-- Spurrier said USC "will try to have a spring game where the offense has a chance to do some things." Spurrier noted that in order to accomplish that, USC may have to insert some defensive linemen into the game that the offensive linemen can block. "Last year, we couldn't block those guys at all and it was tough on the quarterbacks," Spurrier said. "Fans want to see at least a little bit of offense."




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