May 12, 2008

Will Beecher Remain The No. 1 QB?

When it comes to the quarterback position, the only thing we know at this point is redshirt junior Tommy Beecher has a slight edge over redshirt sophomore Chris Smelley and will open fall camp in early August as the No. 1 quarterback.

Other than that, there are question marks everywhere.

Can Smelley, thought by many to be the quarterback to beat when spring practice began, overcome Beecher's advantage with robust summer workouts?

Will freshman Stephen Garcia fulfill all of his conditions for reinstatement and return to the Gamecocks at some point in August?

Will Steve Spurrier's enthusiasm for true freshman Aramis Hillary pan out this season or will he have to wait until 2009 before trying to make a significant impact?

It's been three weeks since Spurrier announced Beecher had earned the right to become the No. 1 quarterback by outplaying Smelley this past spring, including the April 19 Garnet and Black game when the two quarterbacks combined for 340 yards passing but eight interceptions as well.

How close are Beecher and Smelley? The evidence supports they are separated by just a fraction.

Remember, during his press conference immediately following the spring game, Spurrier said it was still a close race. As a result, he declined to name a No. 1 quarterback at that time.

After reviewing the tapes over the next several days, Spurrier decided to make Beecher the guy.

But Spurrier is optimistic either Beecher or Smelley could get the job done when the 2008 season opens Aug. 28 against N.C. State.

"I think we're in good hands with those two," Spurrier said. "Tommy Beecher has a lot of talent. Maybe he deserves a chance. We'll see how it goes."

Ironically, Beecher considered transferring out of the Gamecock program two summers ago when his prospects for playing time appeared slim.

But his perseverance has paid off.

Beecher was promoted to the No. 1 spot after completed nine-of-20 passes for 131 yards in the spring game, including 8-of-16 in the first half with a 34-yard TD toss to Dion Lecorn. He threw three of the eight interceptions.

"Right now, Tommy is playing better than Chris Smelley," Spurrier said recently. "As they go through the summer and as we go through the scrimmages in the pre-season, who knows what can happen."

Spurrier suggests Beecher's greater mobility was the difference between him and Smelley.

"Tommy is a young man who can run around a little bit," Spurrier said. "He's going into his fourth year here. As a coach, you'd love to have a fourth or fifth year quarterback. Tommy Beecher can throw the ball, he can run around."

After Garcia was suspended in late March, Smelley had the No. 1 quarterback job within his grasp, but let it slip away with a mediocre spring. He connected on 13 of 30 passes for 219 yards and five interceptions in the Garnet and Black game.

Now Smelley, who completed 56.8 percent of his passes for 1,176 yards during the 2007 campaign, will need to play catch-up over the summer and hope he overtakes Beecher during fall camp.

"Who knows, maybe over the summer Chris Smelley can improve a lot," Spurrier said. "Chris played pretty well at times last season, not so well at other times."

Whichever quarterback takes the first snap in the opening game, Spurrier adheres to the belief USC won't be able to get away with throwing the ball far more than running it.

"We're not good enough to stand back there and fire the ball 50 times a game," Spurrier said. "We have to mix it up a lot like we did two years ago. Hopefully, we can get back to that level. To do that, our quarterbacks need to run around a little bit."

One of the most often asked questions by fans during the ongoing Gamecock Club tour is the status of Garcia. Spurrier has been reluctant to discuss his situation in detail, saying only that the redshirt freshman from Tampa, Fla. has a long road to travel before he's allowed to rejoin the football team.

"We'll wait and see if he comes back," Spurrier said. "He's a wait and see guy. We can't worry about him right now. We have to concern ourselves with Tommy Beecher and Chris Smelley."

Garcia, who was allowed to finish the semester at USC, will spend the summer at home in Tampa, Fla. with his parents.

Even if Garcia returns, how effective will he be in 2008? Considering he's missed most of the last two spring practices, Spurrier has suggested he's not counting on Garcia this season.

"He has a lot of requirements to fulfill this summer in order to be admitted back to our university," Spurrier said. "We're not putting all of our marbles in one hat. If he comes back, we'll give him an opportunity. He's been at Carolina for two spring practices and been suspended for both of them.

"When is he going to learn? When is he going to grow up? Maybe it's going to take him two years. Maybe it's not. I don't know. I can't guarantee anything. If he does all those requirements, which is a bunch of stuff, maybe he'll have a chance to play and maybe he can contribute in the future."

Spurrier's fascination with Hillary is evident based on his praise of the incoming freshman throughout the Gamecock Club tour.

If Garcia doesn't make it back, Hillary could be the multiple-threat quarterback Spurrier has been searching for. He logged 2,400 passing yards and another 980 yards rushing as a senior at Strom Thurmond High School in Johnston, S.C and led his team to the third round of the Class 3-A playoffs. rated Hillary the No. 14 dual threat QB in the nation.

However, it's nearly impossible for a true freshman to master Spurrier's sophisticated system in a month, so look for Hillary to be redshirted in 2008.

"It's hard to play as a true freshman," Spurrier said. "We're really happy with Aramis. He loves football. We believe he's going to be a good player for us. Most likely (he'll redshirt), but we'll see how it goes. If our first two guys do well, he should redshirt and be ready for 2009. When you have your football program going in the right direction, you don't depend on a lot of freshmen."

Spurrier responded in assertive terms when he was asked recently if Hillary could move to another position.

"He's a quarterback all the way," Spurrier said. "He's a good passer and he has the ability to avoid people. You have to have that nowadays.

"The best offense we've had in my three years here was when Syvelle Newton played (in 2006). He dodged people on third-and-8 and made first downs. We weren't as nearly as efficient on offense in our first and third years. We want our quarterbacks to jump out of there and make a few yards."

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