Steve Spurrier sees a silver lining in Jasper Brinkley's season-ending knee injury - South Carolina should have one heck of a defense in 2008.
Brinkley intends to return to the Gamecocks next season after he recovers from torn ligaments, Spurrier said following Monday night's two-hour workout on the Bluff Road practice fields.
In order for Brinkley to return, the NCAA must grant a medical hardship allowing him to play one more season. Spurrier believes that's likely to happen.
"The positive part is I think we'll be able to get a medical hardship because it happened in the first quarter of the third game. So we believe he'll be back next year," Spurrier said. "It's up to the NCAA. They've been pretty forgiving and lenient and helpful to student-athletes in the last few years. It should not be a problem."
A new NCAA rule provides that season-ending injuries must occur in the first 30 percent of the season in order for a player to receive a medical redshirt. With 12 scheduled games, the cutoff point is 3.6 games.
Since Brinkley was hurt in the first quarter of the fourth game, he falls within the period specified by the rule.
Brinkley played for USC last season after transferring from Georgia Military College and led the Gamecocks in tackles with 107. As a result, he has a redshirt season available.
Brinkley, who apparently suffered the injury in the first quarter, later returned to the contest before retiring. He had a large ice pack around his knee following the game.
"He tried to go back in during the first half but he couldn't move at all," Spurrier said. "Next year at this time we might be saying we're glad he got hurt. We all plan on being here next year. We should definitely have a stronger team next year, so in a way having Jasper here next year is a positive."
Spurrier said he believes Brinkley was injured when a LSU receiver fell into him on a pass play.
Brinkley is scheduled to undergo surgery Wednesday.
Jasper's twin brother, Casper, confirmed Spurrier's comments, saying his brother would forego entering the 2008 NFL Draft and return to USC.
"He (Jasper) is very excited about having another chance to come out here and play for a whole year," Casper said. "(Jasper) is very set on coming back another year. He's definitely coming back. He thought it was just a little bump on his knee but after the game he was in so much pain. I knew it was kind of serious."
Casper said he found out about the severity of his brother's injury when Jasper sent him a text message about 12 noon Monday while he was in class.
"He was kind of down because this was supposed to be our year," Casper said. "Both of us were going to come out together. We've been planning this for a long time. But now he knows he should be one of the top linebackers coming out.
Marvin Sapp, a junior from Jacksonville, Fla., is the likely replacement for Brinkley, Spurrier said. Sapp, the second leading tackler for USC in 2006 while sharing time with Rodney Paulk at outside linebacker, has 12 tackles in four games this season.
"We've had numerous injuries but we've done a great job of pulling together," Sapp said. "It's rough when people go down. Coach (Spurrier) thinks I can fill a role. I started last year. I played inside last year. I'm going to go out there and do my assignment.
"I'll do what I'm supposed to do and in the end I'm going to have fun. We'll put this behind us and everybody knows it's a new challenge. We're not going to get down on ourselves. We can't do anything about last week. All we can do is control our next game."
Casper Brinkley, who played outside linebacker for the first three games before moving back to defensive end, said he has full confidence in Sapp.
"I know Sapp is very capable," Brinkley said. "I know he's going to step up to the challenge. He (Sapp) is a great leader. Somebody else has to step up. It's going to be tough but he's definitely the best guy to take the job. He's very capable.
Dustin Lindsey, who played middle linebacker in 2005, is another candidate. But he's still bothered by soreness in his right knee. Lindsey suffered partially torn ligaments in the spring game and spent the summer rehabilitating from that injury.
"He still has some fluid on his knee," Spurrier said. "I haven't seen much of him in practice."
Lindsey returned to action for a few plays in the Georgia game but aggravated the knee injury. He has experienced some swelling in that area, and may undergo another MRI later this week, Bill Lindsey, father of Dustin, told Gamecock Central Monday night.
"I think they're looking to hold him out for about another week," Billy Lindsey said. "He's trying to do everything he can do to get back. I don't want him coming back unless he's 100 percent. But no one wants to comeback as much as he does."
Freshman Melvin Ingram will get a chance to prove himself this week, as well. Spurrier said the freshman from Hamlet, N.C. "needs to play a lot better (but) he's capable."
Sophomore Vandaral Shackleford is also available.
MONDAY'S PRACTICE: The Gamecocks worked out for the first time since Saturday's 28-16 loss to LSU in preparation for Saturday's matinee meeting with Mississippi State at Williams-Brice Stadium on Homecoming Weekend. Kickoff is at 12:30 p.m. The contest will be televised regionally by the Lincoln Financial Network.
"We had a typical Monday night practice," Spurrier said. "The guys were bouncing around a little bit. We're looking forward to the ballgame. Hopefully, we'll have a full house out here. It should be a fun day."
The Bulldogs have won three straight games since opening the year with a 45-0 loss to LSU. They stunned Auburn, 19-14, two weeks ago before holding off Gardner-Webb, 31-15, last Saturday. It's the first three-game winning streak for Mississippi State since 2000.
"Mississippi State is a very tough team," Spurrier said. "They're 3-1, just like us, so we'll have our work cut out for us. They've got a good defense and they run the ball well. The way we've been trying to stop the run, we could be in trouble if they start rolling up and down the field. That's the key to the game right there. We'll see if we can slow them down some."
BALL WAS WRONGLY MARKED AT 30: The SEC office has acknowledged the officials working Saturday's USC-LSU game misplaced the ball about a half-yard back from where it should have been prior to USC's ill-fated fourth-down attempt from its 30-yard line in the third quarter. After getting the ball back, LSU needed just five plays to score a TD and take a 28-7 lead.
"They marked the ball back about a half-yard," Spurrier said. "We're not criticizing the ref but when you watch the tape it is amazing. When Chris Smelley was up (at the line of scrimmage), they came in and (stopped play) because the clock was messed up. When they reset it, it was a good half-yard behind the (line of scrimmage before the stoppage) and we were about a half-yard ahead of the 30 on the original."
Cory Boyd was stuffed for no gain on the play.
"We lost about a half to three-quarters of a yard when the ref mis-spotted the ball. (SEC Coordinator of Officials Rogers Redding) has already admitted it. It was one of those unfortunate things. He clearly it. It was easy to see."
NORWOOD LEADS USC IN TACKLES: USC's leading tackler is defensive end Eric Norwood, who has 25 stops (12 solo) through four games. With Jasper Brinkley out, Norwood know he's being counted on by the Gamecock defensive coaches to increase his production.
"It puts a lot of pressure on me individually and the team as a whole to step up and make more plays," Norwood said. "We're capable of doing it. It's going to test us. It was tough (without Brinkley) but it was something that may help us. We were at a disadvantage without him. But now we have that experience of playing without him."
Norwood said he plans to remain at bandit end and wreak havoc on opposing quarterbacks, and help stop the running game.
"It starts up front, so we have to play tough on the inside and keep them from getting outside," Norwood said. "We have to step it up. Coach (Spurrier) has told the whole team we need to step it up."
-- INJURY REPORT. Brandon Isaac was limited Monday with a bad shoulder but Spurrier said he could be ready to play Saturday. DL Marque Hall has a sore knee but is expected to play Saturday. TE Jared Cook has a chest contusion. Kevin Young did not practice.
-- While Spurrier said Sapp would probably replace Jasper Brinkley at middle linebacker, he added that "some other players have to step up and starting making some tackles."
-- Spurrier acknowledged he voted for Mississippi State in this week's USA Toady Coaches Poll. "They deserve to be in as much as anybody," he sad.
-- Spurrier said new starting QB Chris Smelley "looked about like he always looks. (He) threw some good, some bad. Hopefully, he'll get better as the week goes."
-- Spurrier said USC would try to get freshman Chris Culliver, who returned a kickoff 44 yards last Saturday, "on the field somewhere. We just don't know yet." Spurrier described Culliver as "an exciting player that's capable of going all the way. We certainly don't have many that can go all the way. It would be fun to have long play somewhere."
-- Spurrier said Seaver Brown would likely start at guard on Saturday.
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