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May 11, 2006Part two of a two-part interview.
Tommy Suggs salivates at the thought of having immensely talented players like Sidney Rice, Cory Boyd, Mike Davis, Kenny McKinley and, yes, Syvelle Newton playing together on offense this coming season.
There's just one chink in the armor: Newton has proclaimed, if you believe him, that he wants to move to safety.
But Steve Spurrier has repeatedly said on the ongoing Gamecock Club tour that he prefers Newton to play on offense, provided the Marlboro County native is fully recovered from the torn Achilles tendon injury that sidelined him for the final five games of the season.
When it comes to Newton, Suggs sides with USC's second-year head coach.
"I prefer to see him wherever Coach Spurrier wants him. I'm sure Coach Spurrier wants him where he'll help the team win," Suggs said. "Syvelle wanted a little media attention when he made that comment. I think he really wants to play offense. I would be very surprised if he wanted to play defense. He can help us offensively. If he's as talented as everyone says, which I think he is, he can play wherever he wants to and he can't hide from the pros. They'll recruit him on offense to play defense, just like they did for Corey Jenkins. The pros will know where to play him."
Newton played three positions last season - wide receiver, running back, and quarterback - and is one of the most versatile players ever to wear the Garnet and Black. In his career, he has passed for 1,158 yards and eight touchdowns, rushed for 456 yards and caught 49 passes for 574 yards. He's also averaged 19.2 in six kick returns.
If Newton can overcome his season-ending injury, his presence on offense will make opposing defenses think twice about rolling two or more defenders over to Sidney Rice.
"(Newton) can take pressure off Sidney Rice," Suggs said. "He can do things. He can bring a different dimension to the game that some of our other kids can't do. He'll be good for the other players if he came back out and worked his way through the injury and played. There's a lot of reasons for him to contribute."
While the Gamecocks' offense could be explosive, the defense will be extremely young and inexperienced with just one senior (cornerback Fred Bennett) on the two-deep depth chart. Spurrier has hinted that several incoming freshmen will get an opportunity to win starting jobs in fall camp.
The lack of experienced players on defense is a possible cause for concern, Suggs says.
"The optimum situation would certainly be to have a lot of juniors and seniors," Suggs said. "But you look at our roster, I don't know where they are. You look at Clemson, Georgia, Florida and others, they have 10 to 15 seniors (starting) and they're spread out. We don't have that here. For some reason, they're not here. They're gone. It's ridiculous. I hate to see Coach Spurrier and his staff saddled with that but they are."
But Suggs appreciates Spurrier's approach of making players earn their position on the field as the right one for the Gamecocks as they seek to post three consecutive winning seasons for the first time since 1988-1990.
"They're putting the best players on the field, regardless, and letting them play," Suggs said. "You'd love to have a lot of seniors but the last couple of years our best leadership has come from non-seniors. Sidney Rice is a great leader. Syvelle Newton was a very good leader when he was on the field. Maybe this senior (leadership) thing this is overemphasized."
With all of the young talented players currently on the roster, Suggs concurs with Spurrier's recent assessment that USC is probably two to three years away from challenging for the SEC Championship.
"Just as it was last year, I think it will be a fabulous ride," Suggs said. "We'll upset a few along the way. We'll have some fun and we'll be proud of our team. But to really be a serious contender, I've always said you have to have the guys up front on both sides of the ball. And you do have to have some seniors in there that have been in the system for a few years to challenge for championships. I don't think you can challenge for championships with freshmen and sophomores."
With three departing starters, the offensive line will feature new players at the all-important position of left tackle (Gurminder Thind is the favorite), right guard and right tackle.
Spurrier hasn't hidden his disappointment over how certain offensive linemen performed last season. Despite the fact that the offensive line will be far younger, Spurrier expects the overall level of performance will improve.
Suggs agrees, saying he expects the offensive line will play with more energy and enthusiasm this season. At least two or three of the incoming class of eight offensive linemen are expected to see action in 2006.
"I was very disappointed with the way some kids played (on the offensive line) last year," Suggs said. "I felt like we had much more talent but for some reason they didn't have the fire in their belly and didn't perform as they should have. If Coach Spurrier says this crowd can do it, I think he's right. The thing that worries me more than anything is depth."
With 29 career starts, center Chris White will be the undisputed leader along the offensive line. Suggs appreciates the significant contributions the Chester, S.C., native has made to the program.
"Chris White is an unsung hero," Suggs said. "The guy played nearly every down last year. We've got to keep him healthy. He's a good leader. We've got some other kids who can compete. Sometimes it's just work ethic. It's passion. It's not athletic ability as much as wanting to whip that guy across from you. Some of those guys have that up there now. Those are the kind of guys who can take you down the field in the fourth quarter."
Days from now, USC will commence a multi-million dollar capital campaign to improve its athletic facilities. In the late 1960s, USC was ahead of the facilities curve. The Carolina Coliseum, when it was constructed, was one of the finest college basketball arenas in the country.
But, over time, USC has slowly slipped behind as other universities constructed bigger and better facilities, including stand-alone student academic centers, something USC lacks.
Suggs says the capital campaign is much needed and long overdue.
"We have a history here at Carolina over the years of making great statements with facilities and not doing anything with them for a long time," Suggs said. "We built the biggest coliseum in the Southeast. It was a showplace. We let it sit there forever.
"Now, we've gotten behind. I applaud Eric Hyman. I applaud Steve Spurrier for coming out and saying we had to do something. The entire university is doing the same thing. It's beginning to transform this entire area of Columbia. I think the new athletic facilities can do the same thing. We're not horrible. We're just not as good as we need to be to take our program to the next level and that costs money. I think the money will come, and probably faster than people think."
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