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USC O-line in need of a push

USC offensive lineman Heath Batchelor, second from left, joins teammates in running through drills during practice.
USC offensive lineman Heath Batchelor, second from left, joins teammates in running through drills during practice.

Staying home at night rather than hanging out in Five Points, Heath Batchelor has reclaimed his spot on South Carolina's offensive line.

Batchelor is expected to start at left guard Saturday against Florida Atlantic - his first start since losing his job last season and taking a medical withdrawal to clear his head.

But Batchelor understands his comeback story will be brief if he does not run-block well and keep pass-rushers off Stephen Garcia.

"He's a guy that's got a lot of experience. He's earned it. He deserves a shot (to) see how he'll do," Gamecocks offensive line coach Eric Wolford said. "Get in there and play well, he'll keep his job. If he doesn't, we'll get another guy in there."

Batchelor, a redshirt junior from Haleyville, Ala., started six consecutive games during a stretch spanning the end of the 2007 season and the start of '08 when John Hunt was USC's line coach. Batchelor appreciates that Wolford did not hand him his job back when he was re-admitted to USC in June.

Batchelor came off the bench to replace Terrence Campbell last week at Georgia before moving ahead of him on this week's depth chart.

"I like working with (Wolford). He's intense," Batchelor said Wednesday. "He keeps us on edge, keeps us trying to do our best. There's really no cement, set-in-stone positions. So that makes everybody try to work harder to keep their positions. So I think we've gotten better because of it."

Through two games, Wolford believes the Gamecocks have improved their pass blocking but would like to see his linemen generate more movement on running plays.

"Be able to move people around, move 'em off the line of scrimmage or just finish the block and maintain the block," said Wolford, the former Illinois assistant. "When you're playing against really good players, sometimes that's harder to do than said."

Putting Batchelor on the first team is the first personnel move made by Wolford, who likes to keep eight linemen in his rotation. Most of Batchelor's experience has been on the right side of the line, although he saw snaps at left tackle during spring practice a couple of years ago.

The 6-foot-7, 308-pound Batchelor, who will line up next to 6-5, 312-pound tackle Jarriel King, said the biggest change playing on the left side will be with his footwork.

Batchelor also has made changes in his lifestyle since returning from his sabbatical, which he spent at home in Alabama.

"I feel like I'm making the most of it, staying in the room at night, studying a lot, not doing all that other stuff," Batchelor said. "And I feel healthier. I feel better. I know I can think better just because being able to soak (the offense) in so quick, it being a different scheme and everything."

Though the new scheme has not yet produced the hoped-for results in the running game - USC is ahead of only Georgia in the SEC rushing statistics - Wolford likes the line's attitude.

"They're playing hard. They're giving effort. They're preparing. They're putting film study in," Wolford said. "They're becoming students of the game, and that's encouraging."

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