USC wideouts leave a lot of defenders looking up

semerson@thestate.comApril 8, 2010 

USC wide receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. feel short when he looks at the 6-foot-5 Tori Gurley, or the 6-4 Alshon Jeffery, or the 6-4 D.L. Moore or ... it goes on.

"Never," said Spurrier Jr., when asked if he has had a taller group in 16 years of coaching. "What, five guys 6-3 or taller? Never. I mean I look around at our meeting and I'm just looking at these guys ..."

The coach smiled and looked up, mimicking himself during those meetings.

"It's a big group. It's a real big group," he said.

In fact, the coach is looking for some smaller receivers to balance things out. In the meantime, the Gamecocks hope the height can be turned into an advantage.

But it may not be quite the overwhelming advantage a lot of people think.

Yes, the game has moved towards taller receivers in the NFL such as Randy Moss (6-4), Terrell Owens (6-3), Larry Fitzgerald (6-3) and Andre Johnson (6-3). Two of the best receivers in the SEC, and in college football, are Georgia's A.J. Green and Julio Jones, each 6-4.

But smaller receivers have also made their mark, like the 5-9 Wes Welker of the New England Patriots, 5-11 Steve Smith of Carolina and 6-0 Hines Ward of Pittsburgh.

"It has its pros and cons," said Gurley, who ranks as the Gamecocks' tallest receiver, depending on what kind of routes a receiver is running.

"Towards the red zone it's great to be big because you're a bigger target because the field compresses," Gurley said. "But being in the open field, sometimes it helps to have speed as a little guy."

But as Gurley pointed out, speed and height are not mutually exclusive.

"Usain Bolt is the fastest man in the world and he's 6-5," Gurley said. "So it just depends on what kind of athletic ability you have and how you use it."

If being tall were the answer to being a great receiver, Spurrier Jr. would walk over to the men's basketball office and ask to borrow the post players for a few months.

Height is only part of the package. And everyone is looking for that 6-4 guy with speed.

"Everybody's looking for Sidney Rice," Spurrier Jr. said, alluding to the ex-Gamecock who was the NFL's fourth-leading receiver last season. "I'd like to sign 12 of them. There's a lot of 6-4 guys out there. There's just not a lot of Sidney Rices."

Rice's success may lead one to think the Gamecocks tried to keep replicating that by signing taller receivers. But Spurrier Jr. said it was not by design as evidenced by the trouble they had last season getting Gurley and the 6-4 Jeffery on the field at the same time.

"Kenny McKinley will be regarded as one of the greatest receivers to ever play here, at 5-10," Spurrier Jr. said. "So there's still certainly a skill for guys at that 5-9, 5-11. We signed two 5-7 guys and we expect those guys to contribute for us. So there's a lot of upside to it, but whether it's best or not, time will tell."

This season will probably be the best test. With Moe Brown gone, almost all the receivers will be of the tall variety: Jeffery, Gurley and Jason Barnes (6-4) are first on the depth chart. Moore has had a good spring and is pushing for a starting spot.

The smallest receiver who has a chance to be a factor is Dion LeCorn, who is 6-foot. The 5-7 Cedrick Snead, a converted cornerback, has gotten some looks, but the other main receivers - DeMario Bennett, Lamar Scruggs and Stephen Flint - are all 6-2.

Throw in tight end Weslye Saunders, who is 6-6, and quarterback Stephen Garcia pronounces himself very happy.

"Just get a ball anywhere near them and they have a fighting chance to get the ball," Garcia said. "You have to interfere with them, or else that's just a terrible throw."

Reach Emerson at (803) 771-8676.

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