For the first time this spring, Steve Spurrier conveyed frustration Wednesday night regarding the sluggish performance of the South Carolina offense.
Not much went right for the guys wearing the garnet jerseys during the two-hour workout in full pads, especially during the 7-on-7 pass skel and 11-on-11 full team drill.
Quarterback Chris Smelley struggled for one of the few times this spring, throwing a pair of interceptions during the 7-on-7 period, then was sacked twice during the 11-on-11 drill.
One of those sacks by the defense came on a blitz that the offensive line failed to pick up, prompting a profanity laced response from OL coach John Hunt.
However, Spurrier said the O-Line showed some improvement from previous practices.
"A little bit," Spurrier said. "We actually broke a few runs and hit a long pass. How about that? I think one of the safeties forgot to cover the guy."
Smelley struggled in the 7-on-7 pass skel, completing only four of nine passes. Two of his throws were intercepted by cornerbacks Akeem Auguste and Carlos Thomas. Tommy Beecher was 3-for-7.
"Our quarterbacks weren't real sharp tonight," Spurrier said. "I was frustrated with Chris Smelley tonight. He acted like he didn't know where the guys were and we didn't even have a pass rush. He's usually pretty smart."
Smelley completed all three of his pass attempts during the 11-on-11 period, one to tight end Weslye Saunders and a pair to wide receivers Moe Brown (outfought CB Cedric Snead) and Jason Barnes (slipped behind the secondary).
Beecher, a redshirt junior engaged in a heated battle with Smelley for the starting QB job, was 1-for-3. His only completion went to Saunders, who made a fingertip grab.
Brian Maddox and Eric Baker had three rushes apiece.
After practice, Spurrier had the team do wind sprints, a rarity in his coaching career.
"We're running wind sprints after practice in spring practice, which I don't think I've ever done that before," Spurrier said. "We're trying to make guys more accountable. Blown assignments. Loafs. We're just running the whole team. Maybe that will help us. Something has to help us. We're trying to play with more discipline and more effort. We're trying everything we can."
Spurrier again praised defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson and special teams coordinator Ray Rychleski for their contributions to the Gamecocks in their respective genres.
"I like what Ellis Johnson does, what Ray (does)," Spurrier said. "Hopefully, the offensive guys can keep up with them."
Spurrier pointed to the fact USC has only had one offensive player drafted in his three seasons with the program. Running back Cory Boyd could be the second. Still, reiterating comments he made Tuesday night in Spartanburg, he said the Gamecocks have plenty of talent to be competitive in the SEC."
"Frustrated? Yeah, a little bit lately," Spurrier said. "But I understand. We have good enough players to win. We haven't won the close games. We've got to start doing a little better and coach a little better. That's been a little frustrating. You have to understand the other teams are pretty good also."
The practice was USC's 11th of 15 this spring. The Gamecocks are scheduled to work out again Friday at 4:15 p.m. The Spring game is scheduled for April 19 at 1 p.m.
USC received a dose of bad news Wednesday on the injury front when Spurrier revealed junior strong safety Emanuel Cook had "cracked a bone" in his thumb and would miss the rest of spring practice.
But Cook, last season's leading tackler with 92, has to hit the books too. Spurrier said Cook has "some academic issues he's taking care of also."
After reviewing the video, Spurrier said he was not pleased with USC's performance during Monday night's full-contact scrimmage at Williams-Brice Stadium.
"It wasn't very pretty on either side," Spurrier said. "That's why we practice. Hopefully we can get better."
AUGUSTE SHINES AT CORNERBACK: One of the spring's biggest surprises has been the impressive play of freshman cornerback Akeem Auguste, who enrolled at USC in January following a semester at Fork Union Military Academy in Virginia.
Auguste initially signed with USC in February of 2007 out of Chaminade-Madonna High School in Hollywood, Fla. It's safe to say the USC coaches didn't think Auguste would be this good this fast. Even Auguste acknowledges he's surprised a bit by how well he's done.
Auguste provided the highlight play of Monday night's scrimmage at Williams-Brice Stadium when he made a one-handed grab of an interception while falling backwards in the back right corner of the end zone.
"I really didn't expect to be doing this good, this early," Auguste said. "But I'm loving it and I'm not going to back down. I'm just coming out every day to play, trying to get better, working hard."
Auguste believes his semester at Fork Union prepared him for the rigors of major college football. He said he's been playing cornerback since the 11th grade.
"I think playing there last year really gave me a head start on the other freshmen coming in," Auguste said. "It was a good transition for me and I think I'm doing pretty good now."
With Captain Munnerlyn and Carlos Thomas both juniors, Auguste will likely see most of his action for USC this upcoming season in the nickel and dime packages. He said the thing he he needs to work on the most is "staying with my man. I like to play the ball a lot."
HILLS MAKING PROGRESS AT WIDE RECEIVER: Joe Hills was part of USC's heralded wide receiver class in 2007. But, like most of them, Hills stepped on the field for just a few plays last season and ended up taking a medical redshirt. He'll start the 2008 season as a redshirt freshman.
Hills' progress was derailed last season when he suffered a serous knee sprain on the first day of fall camp. He sat out most of the pre-season before being inserted into the Mississippi State game for two plays. Hills did not have a reception.
In terms of understanding the scheme and knowing his responsibilities, Hills said he's made significant progress over the last six months.
"I'm learning the plays and I know them better now," Hills said. "I'm getting better at reading coverages. It's still a lot to learn. I've got most of it down but it's still a lot to learn. Now I'm much better knowing where to be on the field and the timing of the routes."
With his 6-foot-4 frame and leaping ability, Hills has become one of the prized pupils under wide receivers coach Steve Spurrier, Jr.
"Basically, he just wants you to study your playbook," Hill said. "If you don't know what you're supposed to do on each play, it's going to be a long day.
Hills doesn't hesitant when asked what's the hardest part of Spurrier's offense for a young receiver to grasp.
"It's definitely reading coverages," Hills said. "In high school we just ran the route and that's it. We didn't worry about coverages in high school. We also have to deal with getting off blocks a lot more here. Most of the guys at safety or corner in the SEC are bigger and faster than you are. We didn't have that in high school."
JOHNSON UNSURE ABOUT EARLY ENROLLMENT: Linebacker Shaq Wilson (First Coast HS in Jacksonville, Fla.) and defensive back Jay Spearman (Greenwood HS) graduated early from high school and have made favorable impressions thus far in spring practice.
But defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson is still unsure whether, as a general rule, allowing players to enroll early in college and participate in spring practice.
"I have mixed feelings about it," Johnson said. "Reid (McCollum) went back home because he didn't feel like it was good for him. It's been good for Shaq. No doubt, when he gets here in the fall he'll be glad he did it. It depends on the kid and whether they're ready for it academically and physically. The overall concept of it is good.
"Ideally, as coaches, we'd like to bring every kid in in January and not the fall. You'll have them for a semester of school, spring ball and the summer program. But you can't do that for everyone. In theory, the kids who come here in January has ever advantage. But some kids aren't ready for that when thry come straight out of high school."
2008 SPRING PRACTICE COUNTDOWN
Practices Held - 11
Practices Left - 4
Next Practice - Fri., April 11, 4:15 p.m. (Scrimmage)
-- Spurrier said he's spoken with redshirt freshman QB Stephen Garcia and that he's "going to try to come back."
-- Captain Munnerlyn practiced fielding punts during the special teams segment prior to stretching. Munnerlyn is wearing a yellow jersey while he continues to heal from a broken bone in his foot.
-- Ellis Johnson said he's still in the process of completely moving his family from Starkville, MS. He says he sold his house there to a neighbor and is currently residing in a condo adjacent to Williams-Brice Stadium while the rest of his family resides with his mother-in-law. They have signed a contract to buy a new house but won't be able to move in until June 1st. "I feel I'm home but I don't have a home," said Johnson, who grew up in Winnsboro.
-- Following the stretch, the practice started with a magician entertaining the squad. "We had a guy, Kevin Dawson, who is one of the best I've ever seen," Spurrier said. "I've been around him a couple of times. I invited him to come out and do
some tricks for the guys. He's amazing. I don't know how theydo it. Most of our players have never seen a magician do those kind of things."
-- The first-team offensive line during Wednesday's 11-on-11 full team drill: LT Hutch Eckerson, LG Lemuel Jeanpierre, C Seaver Brown, RG Heath Batchelor and RT Justin Sorensen.
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