Former Gamecocks set to showcase talent on Sunday

CHARLOTTE - There will be a South Carolina Gamecock convergence Sunday on Bank of America Stadium.

Four former USC players are expected to play prominent roles when Carolina hosts Minnesota, with Vikings receiver Sidney Rice the featured attraction.

"We're all around (the NFL)," said Carolina left tackle Travelle Wharton. "We're sprinkled in. It should be exciting to see those guys out there."

Wharton, in his sixth pro season, is the senior member of the foursome playing in Charlotte on Sunday. He completed his college career in 2003, one year before Rice arrived as a redshirt freshman.

Other alums preparing for the nationally-televised Sunday night game are Panthers cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and Vikings linebacker Jasper Brinkley, both former teammates of Rice who are in their rookie seasons.

Wharton began the season as Carolina's left guard but now helps anchor the line at left tackle after season-ending injuries to tackles Jordan Gross and Jeff Otah.

Munnerlyn is the Panthers' No. 3 cornerback, but could start Sunday with Richard Marshall nursing an ankle injury.

Brinkley is expected to start his second game for Minnesota at middle linebacker, filling in for E.J. Henderson, who is on injured reserve with a broken leg.

Brinkley is the twin brother of Casper Brinkley, who was on the Panthers' practice squad most of last season and was in Carolina's training camp the past two summers.

Rice, who missed practice Thursday with an illness that isn't expected to affect his availability for the game, is one of the NFL's breakout stars this season.

After combining his first two seasons to catch 46 passes for 537 yards and eight touchdowns, Rice clearly has benefited from the arrival in Minnesota of quarterback Brett Favre. Rice ranks fifth in the NFL with 1,075 yards receiving on 67 catches, including five for TDs.

"He was great in college (and) he's getting his name out there now in the NFL," Munnerlyn said of Rice. "He goes up and gets the ball at its highest point. He knows how to make guys miss."

Rice was already a star at USC when Munnerlyn arrived as a freshman in 2006. Munnerlyn was assigned to guard Rice in practice and played so well that Rice began sending him encouraging text messages.

Now, Munnerlyn said Rice texts him and asks why he wears jersey No. 41 for the Panthers after wearing No. 1 with the Gamecocks.

Munnerlyn expected Rice to excel in the NFL but still marvels at his development this season.

"Sidney just got hungry like he wanted it really, really bad," said Munnerlyn. "At South Carolina, he was the same way. He's turned the NFL upside down, to me.

"Brett Favre said he's one of the best receivers he's ever played with. Coming out of Brett Favre's mouth, those are strong words."

Favre praised Rice's ball skills this week, comparing his ability to go up for a ball to former NBA player Charles Barkley's ability to come down with rebounds despite being an undersized forward.

"He has that type of ability," Favre said of Rice. "He has great hands."