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March 3, 2009

All eyes on offense after South Carolina shakeup

SOUTH CAROLINA AT-A-GLANCE
Defensive line coach Brad Lawing has three starters returning along his line in 2009.
THE BASICS
Coach: Steve Spurrier
Last season: 7-6, 4-4 SEC. Lost to Iowa in the Outback Bowl.
Spring dates: March 3-April 11
RETURNING STARTERS
Offense (4): C Garrett Anderson, WR Jason Barnes, G Terrence Campbell, T Jarriel King.
Defense (6): T Ladi Ajiboye, FS Chris Culliver, E Cliff Matthews, LB Eric Norwood, T Nathan Pepper, LB Darian Stewart.
Special teams (1): P Spencer Lanning.

Positions of strength

Defense wasn't South Carolina's problem last season and shouldn't be during the spring. Many in this group have a long track record. The Gamecocks return three defensive linemen with more than 20 career starts tackles Ladi Ajiboye and Nathan Pepper and end Cliff Matthews. They did a good job of clearing the way for Eric Norwood, who toyed with the idea of going pro but returned to school after amassing 14.5 tackles for loss and nine sacks in '08.

Help is needed

The offense needs a boost as a whole, but the nation's 112th-ranked run game must improve in particular. Leading rusher Mike Davis is gone, leaving Eric Baker and Brian Maddox as the most experienced tailbacks on the roster. They combined for 78 carries for 303 yards last year. Four-star freshman running back Jarvis Giles enrolled early and will compete for carries, as will redshirt freshman Kenny Miles. The offensive line needs two new starters, and the Gamecocks also need to develop depth there. Three new starters in the secondary are needed, including both cornerback spots; the top three corners are gone.

Keep an eye on

DB/QB Stephon Gilmore: South Carolina needs depth in the secondary and a spark on the offense. Gilmore will look to provide both this spring. Gilmore, a Rivals100 prospect, enrolled early after rushing for 1,331 yards and 23 touchdowns and passing for 1,771 yards and 14 touchdowns during his senior season at Rock Hill (S.C.) South Pointe.

WR Dion LeCorn: The junior will move back to wide receiver after spending part of last season at safety. The Gamecocks must replace Kenny McKinley, who broke most of the school's career receiving records, and tight end Jared Cook. LeCorn will be a veteran presence, but several youngsters also will vie for the spot. LeCorn caught 27 passes for 315 yards and three touchdowns as a true freshman and grabbed 13 passes in the first four games in 2008 before making the switch.

LB Rodney Paulk: A two-year starter, Paulk returns after missing all but four games of 2008 with a knee injury. He could reclaim his spot at middle linebacker, but he will be pressured by four-star junior college transfers Tony Straughter and Josh Dickerson.

His time is now

No South Carolina player will be under more pressure to perform than quarterback Stephen Garcia. Garcia started twice last season as a redshirt freshman but was a regular in the quarterback rotation. Now that Chris Smelley and Tommy Beecher have transferred, Garcia is at the top of that rotation ahead of two redshirt freshmen. Garcia has had trouble staying out of trouble in his first two seasons at South Carolina. How will he handle himself now that the margin of error is much smaller?

The buzz

All eyes will be on South Carolina's offense during spring practice. The Gamecocks replaced four offensive assistants, with wide receivers coach and play-caller Steve Spurrier Jr. the only returning assistant on that side of the ball. South Carolina hopes the shakeup will jump-start an offense that has been stale for most of coach Steve Spurrier's tenure. Garcia's progress is vital.

David Fox is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at dfox@rivals.com.



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