Practice report: Saunders speaks out

nwhite@thestate.comAugust 27, 2010 

USC tight end Weslye Saunders

GERRY MELENDEZ/GMELENDEZ@THESTATE.COM

Even when he’s suspended, USC senior tight end Weslye Saunders manages to create a stir.

Saunders surprised everyone – including USC officials – Friday afternoon when he called into radio station 107. 5 The Game to give a statement responding to media and fan criticism regarding the controversies surrounding him.

Saunders, who’s being investigated by the NCAA about taking a trip to Florida possibly paid for by agents in addition to facing questions about his residency at the Whitney Hotel, wanted to refute talk that he didn’t care about the program. He was suspended at the start of this week for what Steve Spurrier called a violation of team rules, which the coach stated were unrelated to the NCAA investigation. Saunders missed a meeting and was late to a scrimmage last Saturday.

The continuing drama added another chapter at week’s end when he gave this statement to the station.

"I love the university and my coaches. Allegations of this being all about me and being a me-first guy and trying to bring the team down are false. Coach Spurrier and I are on good terms. We did have a misunderstanding, but that's all cleared up now. I couldn't have more respect for Steve Spurrier or (athletics director) Eric Hyman. I understand perception is reality and people will see what they want to from the outside. But what they see is not the case on the inside."

The unusual event didn’t get much of a reaction after Friday’s practice, however. Spurrier didn’t speak with the media, and Steve Spurrier Jr., speaking as the day’s representative from the coaching staff, said, “I didn’t see what Weslye said, nor do I have a reaction.”

He then referred further questions to the head coach, who was long gone.

Senior defensive end Cliff Matthews, one of the captains, insisted the team wasn’t letting the Saunders situation bother them.

“We have not been worried about it at all,” Matthews said. “We’ve just been worrying about Southern Miss. No distractions, (we’re) focused. We’re not worried about anything else.”

For his part, Saunders remains suspended, and he was not listed anywhere on the depth chart released Friday.

Chart chatter

One eye-opener on the depth chart had incumbent junior quarterback Stephen Garcia and true freshman Connor Shaw listed as either/or, yet another indication the competition is wide open despite the fact that Garcia threw for 2,862 yards, the fourth-most in single-season school history, and 17 touchdowns, the fifth-most in single-season school history, last season. Shaw, however, has shown Spurrier something in both practices and scrimmages that has earned the youngster a real shot at playing time.

The running back situation was even more muddled, as all four tailbacks, Kenny Miles, Marcus Lattimore, Brian Maddox and Jarvis Giles, listed, with Miles and Lattimore as an either/or in the top slot.

Stock rising

With linebacker Shaq Wilson, last season’s leading tackler, still sidelined with a hamstring injury, his replacements have moved up on the depth chart. Senior Tony Straughter and sophomore Quin Smith are listed as either/or to start if Wilson isn’t ready to go against Southern Miss.

Stock falling

It appears Saunders is going to retire this category until his saga is fully resolved.

Injury report

Giles, who had been dealing with a bruised shoulder, didn’t wear a yellow jersey Friday. Guard Terrence Campbell, who slipped to second-team on the depth chart behind Rokevious Watkins at right guard, remains in a cast with a high ankle sprain, but Spurrier said on his radio show Thursday that he believes Campbell should be able to play against Southern Miss. Patrick DiMarco is still wearing a yellow non-contact jersey, although he has been practicing, due to the fracture in his forearm. The injury didn’t keep him from still being listed as both the first-team tight end and fullback.

Quote of the day

“It feels real good. I know we’ve got a lot of stuff to work on, and like I said, each day we’re going to do enough to get better and keep peaking each week.” – Matthews on how he feels about this team’s potential despite the injuries and investigation that have clouded the fall camp.

Up next

The Gamecocks will practice Saturday at 6 p.m.

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