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Shifts, changes mark USC's front line

At Dutch Fork High, Garrett Anderson anchored the offensive line as a tackle. In his first two years at South Carolina, he was a guard. Now Anderson enters his junior season at center.

“I finally got to the middle. I can’t go any farther inward,” Anderson joked.

Position switches and lineup changes have been a staple of the offensive line lately. Even this year, when center is the only position where USC lost a starter.

The surest bet on the line is that the five who start the opener on Aug. 28 will not start all 12 games. In fact the lineup is likely to change by the game three, when Jamon Meredith becomes eligible.

The uncertainty is nothing new for the line, which has been beset by injuries, inexperience and under-performance in coach Steve Spurrier’s three years.

But the Gamecocks’ hope a healthy stable of veterans will make a difference this year:

 Meredith and right tackle Justin Sorensen are seniors. Backup tackle Hutch Eckerson started four times in 2006, and redshirt freshman Quintin Richardson and sophomore Jarriel King were highly-recruited.

 At guard, Lemuel Jeanpierre and Heath Batchelor started four and five games, respectively, last season.

 Anderson was in and out of the starting lineup the past two seasons. His competition at center, Seaver Brown, started six games at guard last year.

“Everybody’s been here for at least two years now under Spurrier’s system,” Sorensen said. “So all the offensive linemen know what they’re doing, so there’s a lot more depth than there used to be. There’s not just five of us, there’s a lot more guys who know the plays in the system.”

The left side of the line holds the most uncertainty. Meredith is a two-year starter at left tackle, but the NCAA ruled he has to sit the first two games after playing briefly during his 2004 redshirt season.

Richardson, Eckerson and King are still battling to start in the opener, and if someone plays well enough there, Meredith could slide back in at left guard. That’s because offensive line coach John Hunt isn’t sold on Jeanpierre.

“We’re still working a bunch of people,” Hunt said. “There’s a lot of ideas going through our brains, I can tell you that. We’re not sitting at home, watching TV or nothing now. We’ve giving them every opportunity.”

The line has been a lightning rod for criticism from fans, and Spurrier hasn’t been too pleased himself, often mentioning he likes mobile quarterbacks because of poor pass blocking. But, according to Sorensen, the coach has changed his tactics behind the scenes.

“He hasn’t been on us as much, so that’s a good thing. Usually every summer he gets on us quite a bit for messing up because we usually do,” Sorensen said. “But I think we’re doing a lot better this year. There’s still missed assignments and still guys going unblocked. But not as much as in the past, I’d like to think. And I think we’re doing a lot better as a unit.”

Anderson echoed that. The junior has usually been one of the last guys to leave practice as he gets used to his new position. Now a veteran of the group, he said has been working hard — now he just needs to show the results.

“I think the offensive line has the opportunity to be a strong point for this team, and I hope we can live up to that, because that’s what we’ve always wanted to be,” Anderson said. “We’ve always wanted to be something that could always be dependable on this team.”

Reach Emerson at (803) 771-8676.

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