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March 19, 2008
South Carolina began last season 6-1 and looked as if it could be a legit contender in the SEC East. But injuries and poor play took their toll, and the Gamecocks finished the season with a five-game losing streak that included three losses at home. The run defense especially was lax down the stretch. This spring, the focal point will be finding a new quarterback. Here's a look at the Gamecocks as they prepare for spring drills.
Steve Spurrier would like to find a quarterback this spring.
Offense—4: G Seaver Brown, WR Kenny McKinley, T Jamon Meredith *, T Justin Sorensen.
Defense—10: T Ladi Ajiboye, SS Emanuel Cook, T Marque Hall, LB Cliff Matthews, CB Captain Munnerlyn, E Eric Norwood, LB Rodney Paulk, LB Marvin Sapp, FS Darian Stewart, CB Carlos Thomas%.
Special teams—1: K/P Ryan Succop.
*–Meredith was granted a medical hardship that allowed him to play in 2008, but only if he misses the first two games.
%–Thomas has been suspended indefinitely.
POSITIONS OF STRENGTH
Cook and Munnerlyn give South Carolina two All-America candidates in a secondary that returns four starters from last season. The return of Jasper Brinkley from a knee injury should fortify the Gamecocks at linebacker. South Carolina also returns Norwood, a potential All-American at defensive end.
HELP IS NEEDED
South Carolina has had instability at the quarterback position, where sophomore Chris Smelley likely will compete with redshirt freshman Stephen Garcia and junior Tommy Beecher for the starting job. The Gamecocks also must find a tailback to replace the departed Cory Boyd. Although the Gamecocks return three starters on the offensive line, they need to improve upon their 2007 performance.
KEEP AN EYE ON
WR Chris Culliver: This former five-star prospect didn't catch a pass last season, but he certainly has the speed to become a major factor as a sophomore. Culliver spent his freshman season adjusting to receiving after primarily playing defensive back at Garner (N.C.) High School.
QB Stephen Garcia: Although Smelley has more experience, don't be surprised if this redshirt freshman opens the season as the Gamecocks' starting quarterback.
HIS TIME IS NOW
After rushing for at least 94 yards in two of South Carolina's first three games last year, Davis stumbled down the stretch and carried the ball just 12 times in the Gamecocks' last three games. Davis' experience would appear to give him the edge in the battle to replace Boyd as the Gamecocks' main tailback, but he should face a tough challenge from Maddox. Davis didn't help his cause by receiving a one-game suspension for missing class.
South Carolina's inability to stop teams led to a season-ending five-game losing streak last year, so it will be interesting to see how a defense stacked with returning starters adjusts to new coordinator Ellis Johnson. South Carolina also will spend this spring trying to decide on a tailback to replace Boyd. But there's no question the quarterback competition will steal most of the headlines this spring.
Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.