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August 4, 2010
The murmurings began before practice, when it was revealed that starting left tackle Jarriel King had a tweaked hamstring and was going to be out for a few days. It increased as backup right guard Rokevious Watkins strolled through the Bluff Road practice field gate, his yellow non-contact jersey balled in his ham-sized fist.
"Are they going to have enough linemen to practice?" "How serious are these injuries?" "Can they afford to lose any more?"
All fair points, and all legitimate concerns. Several among the multitude of folks on the field were chirping with worry.
Offensive line coach Shawn Elliott wasn't one of them.
"I need five to play out there," Elliott said. "If I can get five to play, I'm going to be OK. I don't need to get 14 ready. Five. Five solid ones."
South Carolina concluded its first practice of the fall on Tuesday night with 12 healthy offensive linemen. King should be OK by the end of the week and Watkins was fighting through a stomach virus, meaning he could be back by tonight's practice.
Even with those two in the rotation, the Gamecocks' line is the most challenged spot on the team. Of the 14 available linemen, eight have never played a varsity down and two of the others (King and Terrence Campbell) have been on and off the yellow-jersey list throughout their careers.
But Elliott can't work a trade with another team. He has the hand he's been dealt.
So might as well play it.
"They had a great summer," Elliott said. "I think they came in in great shape, did a great job. I don't think we've got a guy that's out of shape. They're ready to go the haul."
With King out, Kyle Nunn slid from right to left tackle and Hutch Eckerson stepped in at right. The interior line -- left guard Garrett Chisolm, center T.J. Johnson and right guard Campbell -- stayed the same.
The second team featured three freshmen and two veterans who have never played. A.J. Cann played left tackle, Ronald Patrick was at left guard, Ryan Broadhead played center, Tramell Williams was at right guard and Steven Singleton was at right tackle.
Perhaps not desirable to have to lean on freshmen to play so soon, but Elliott offered the glass-half-full opinion. Breaking them in now is much more preferable to breaking them in mid-season.
"They moved in today because they're in that second group," Elliott said. "That's because we have to. If they've got to play, they've got to play. But they've got to learn how to play. It's going to take a little bit longer than if you were a redshirt sophomore or something like that. I'm trying to get a group out there ready to play. I don't care who it is. The best will play."
Elliott credited Cann's versatility -- although listed at 6-foot-2 and 285 pounds, the Bamberg product drew raves for being able to play all over. Elliott said that while he's not a prototypical tackle, Cann can play there and all other spots on the line.
"He's not the ideal 6-5, 300-pounder with really long arms, but he's extremely athletic and that's something you've got to have," Elliott said. "You've got to have a kid who can play each and every position. He's a guy that can do it."
As for the rest, Elliott liked the enthusiasm and attitude of the first day. The retention from spring practice seemed good and Elliott particularly liked the confidence shown by his group.
"You're going to see that as we move on," he said.
As for the numbers, Elliott will practice with whoever shows up. He wasn't anxious at all about the dwindling numbers.
Even with only 12 healthy linemen, that's seven more that could go down before he really has to sweat.
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