1. The special teams are in good hands with Ray Rychleski. Lured from Maryland, Rychleski had the units organized and crisp during practice, and was the clear man in charge. That was in contrast to the past few years when several coaches had their hands in different units. It said something that kicker Ryan Succop was named the offensive MVP of spring practice.
2. The defense will have a different look, despite returning nearly every starter. New coordinator Ellis Johnson put his print on the unit right away, shifting Eric Norwood to linebacker and Cliff Matthews to defensive end. Johnson also looks ready to play more man-to-man coverage in the secondary. And star linebacker Jasper Brinkley doesn’t look to be an every-down player, with Johnson preferring Brinkley concentrate on run-stopping.
3. Brian Maddox is ready to take a bigger role. After getting few carries as a freshman, he got a lot of spring work and took advantage, especially in the spring game by rushing for 87 yards and two touchdowns on 13 carries. He was also named the team’s most improved running back.
4. C.C. Whitlock is ready to play as a true freshman. After graduating early from Chester High, the star athlete was a factor all spring. Receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. said among all his players, Whitlock was the most similar to Kenny McKinley in terms of pass-catching and route-running. It says something when two of last year’s freshmen receivers, Mark Barnes and Chris Culliver, were shifted to the secondary.
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5. The secondary is more loaded than expected. Cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and safety Emanuel Cook missed most of the spring with injuries, but the void was more than filled. The coaches gushed all spring about freshman Akeem Auguste, a prep school product who enrolled early. Veteran safety Darian Stewart was named the spring’s best defensive player. Addison Williams was named the team’s most improved cornerback. And the secondary had seven of the eight interceptions in the spring game.
FIVE THINGS STILL UNRESOLVED
1. The quarterback competition. Chris Smelley had every chance to cement the job, especially with Stephen Garcia’s suspension, but failed to do so. His five-interception performance in the spring game was a step back. If he still has the edge over Tommy Beecher, its a small one, while Garcia — if he returns — and incoming Aramis Hillary should get a lot of reps in August.
2. How the play-calling duties will be divvied up. Steve Spurrier said a couple weeks ago that he was handing off responsibility to his son, but at times Saturday it seemed a group effort. Spurrier said at one point he stepped in to correct whether a play should be called from a certain hash mark. The official word going into the fall may be that Spurrier Jr. is the main play-caller, but it seems unlikely that Spurrier Sr. will hang back the whole time.
3. The offensive line remains a worry. Spurrier had to change the rules to ensure passing in the spring game, limiting it to four rushers per play. It doesn’t help that left tackle Jamon Meredith will have to sit out the first two games of this season, although tackle Hutch Eckerson had a good spring. Several spots remain up for grabs, and several candidates (center Garrett Anderson, guard Kevin Young) missed most of the spring. It seems likely that there will be more lineup juggling this fall.
4. The linebackers are in a bit of flux. Middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley returned from his knee injury to practice, but he was slowed. Eric Norwood got shifted from defensive end, and Johnson wants Norwood and Melvin Ingram to lose weight to be faster. The new coordinator also wants to find a spot for Rodney Paulk, but he doesn’t want Paulk, Norwood and Brinkley on the field at the same time. Marvin Sapp is still around to compete for playing time.
5. Key special teams spots need to be cemented. Spencer Lanning has a chance to become the full-time punter, allowing Ryan Succop to concentrate on place-kicking, but the move isn’t certain. The team’s kick and punt returners could be any of a group including Munnerlyn, Culliver, McKinley or Dion Lecorn and Akeem Auguste. The latter two got looks Saturday.