Scanning The Offensive Line
Rick Stockstill is a good coach. But is he a miracle-worker, a thaumaturge, Wizard of Wide Receivers if you will?
Gamecock fans had better hope so.
We do not mean to write this in a negative light but let's be honest with one another. If there is one position that has been neglected to some degree, one group who is underfunded in terms of talent on the 2004 Gamecock football team, it is the wide receiver corps.
Plain and simple.
Noah Whiteside could play for anyone in the country eventually, but for the moment he lacks experience. Expect him to gain as much experience as possible beginning in game one at Vanderbilt. He is the most talented, finest all-around receiver on the football team and he is a true sophomore.
Troy Williamson has great speed but he possesses hands of stone. That may be ok for boxers but for wide receivers it is a curse. Coach Stockstill will need to use all of his magic to turn the lightening fast Williamson into a big time ball catching threat this season. The Gamecocks need Williamson in a big way - he is a starter, but he would probably not start for any of the top six teams in the SEC this season simply because he drops too many balls.
The truth hurts.
Matthew Thomas has ability. He has above average speed, he has the body and at times he has the hands. But does he have the head? Thomas is another that will be counted on as a starter but he too would have a hard time starting at LSU, Georgia, Tennessee, Ole Miss, Florida, and probably not at Arkansas or Tennessee for that matter. Not unless he learns to catch the catchable footballs in key situations. With Matthew it appears to be all between his ears. A lack of concentration. Wanting to run before he catches the ball. Whatever. In fairness to Matt he has been moved from wide receiver to the secondary and now back to wide receiver. Gamecock fans we employ you. When you see Matthew Thomas on the field, send positive vibes his way. He has the tools, all he needs is the confidence. Do not let his sometimes abrasive personality fool you. He does that to cover some insecurity. But if the Gamecocks are going to be successful on offense this season then it may all depend upon how well Matt Thomas performs. Mark those words.
It is thin from here down.
Andrea Gause, much like Matt Thomas, has been moved from WR to DB and now back to WR. More so than Thomas he lacks experience at wide receiver. He has decent speed but he is not what most would refer to as a 'smooth route runner' to put it mildly.
Kris Clark is a guy that will work hard and do what is asked of him but he lacks some of the physical attributes you will see on the better teams around the league. He has average speed but good hands. He will be a player that will be called upon frequently to spell the starters - and who knows, he might surprise us all and become the Gamecocks' main possession receiver this season. That is certainly a possibility.
Michael Flint is a walkon with a big heart, fair hands and decent speed. He too is a hard worker that will be used to afford breathers to the starters.
Travis Lee shows the most promise of any of the unknowns returning. He has the tools. Not great speed but slightly above average. He seems teachable. He has good hands and is fearless ... a very important attribute at his position. But he has zero experience. Still, he will be called upon to contribute this season early and often.
David Smith and D'Von Hill, neither are really what we would label SEC quality wide receivers. Both are slower than average. Coach Stockstill is going to need to work these guys into contributors and it is not going to be an easy task. Of course, there is always a chance that one or both may rise to the occasion. Stranger things have happened.
Did we hear someone ask, "what about Sidney Rice?" Well, Rice is a big kid with great leaping ability and what appears to be above average hands. We've watched a lot of tape on him, he does have those two things going for him, but he has below average speed and speed kills in this league ... and that works both ways. Slow can kill an offense just as fast might kill a defense so to speak. He'll be used this season but with absolutely no college experience just how effective he may become is not really in doubt.
C.J. Byrd are you listening?
So headed into the 2004 season the wide receiver corp is lacking in depth and talent. Somehow Rick Stockstill is going to have to take what he has and prepare them to fight and win in the SEC. He will be facing some very good secondaries this season, but thankfully most not as good as we have seen in the past. This may be the one saving grace. Dondrial Pinkins or Syvelle Newton or Blake Mitchell or whomever, will need to deliver catchable balls to this group of they have any hope of having them caught. This is not a group that will make an average quarterback look good. And consider the urgency with which the Gamecocks must field a successful passing game this season. It is something to think about.
If you are disheartened after reading this, don't be. Over the next few days you will learn that, while the Gamecocks may be lacking in one or two areas, they should be able to compensate, and in doing so offset certain weaknesses, through strengths in others areas.