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July 17, 2010Terrence Campbell feels good. A year of chronic neck and shoulder issues, related to a stinger that never quite got better, is in the past as Campbell readies for the 2010 season.
He -- and many others -- are hoping that good health lasts. Not just for him, but across the starting offensive line.
Because there aren't many other options.
"It will be hard," Campbell admitted. "It will be tough on the line. But some of the freshmen are really good. They'll step in right away and we can count on them.
"They'll just have to grow up a little quicker."
As will any upperclassmen who aren't used to playing nearly every snap of every game.
With the early-week news that backup Quintin Richardson is out for the season with a torn tendon in his chest, South Carolina's offensive line is down to 15 players. Of those 15, five are true freshmen who are on campus but are going through a collegiate conditioning program for the first time and have obviously never played a varsity down.
Four more are career backups who have likewise never played a snap. One more (Jarriel King) has had two surgeries done for an irregular heartbeat and says he's fine, but the standard clich?s there are no minor heart problems. And then there's Campbell, who had neck issues so problematic last year that coach Steve Spurrier said that one more bang-up might be his last.
The Gamecocks feel they have the returning talent and necessary skill players to make a run at the SEC championship. Having a strong line to protect and trigger those skill players is a large part of that goal.
But the six most experienced linemen are walking a dental floss-thin strand of a tightrope -- one injury, one slip-up, and the goal becomes that much harder.
"True," Campbell admitted, "but I know I'm fine. I'm good to go. I consider myself a leader of the line and I've got to, we've all got to step it up this year."
Campbell had a few of his line mates with him at Friday's Pigskin Poets gathering. Freshmen A.J. Cann and Cody Gibson were each there, high-fiving the many children around them and taking part in the festivities.
All will continue to weight-train and condition until preseason camp begins on Aug. 3, and then will come the questions. Will new line coach Shawn Elliott and Spurrier have some kind of dynamic new offensive formation that can take a lot of the pressure off the line? Will some of the freshmen like Cann or Ronald Patrick surprise by stepping in right away? Would there perhaps be a switch of backup defensive linemen to the other side of the ball?
Most pressing, can the linemen stay injury-free first through a month of camp, then a 12-game regular season and perhaps at least one more game?
"I'm confident we can get past it," said tailback Kenny Miles, one of the many running backs who will depend on the line opening holes for them. "It's not going to be easy, but we can do it."
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