Redshirt freshman Brandon Shell hasn't played a down of major college football, yet he's preparing diligently this summer to accept the starting reins at one of the most important offensive positions - left tackle.
Shell, the No. 1 offensive line prospect and the No. 2 overall prospect in the Palmetto State for the 2011 recruiting cycle, embraces the responsibility that comes with being counted on heavily to protect quarterback Connor Shaw's blind side against lightning-fast SEC defensive ends.
"I'm up for the challenge," Shell told Gamecock Central Friday during the USC football team's annual Pigskin Poets appearance at Richland County Public Library. "Since I've been here, I've learned how to use my hands, how to kick step and how defensive ends like to play. During the game I liked to watch the defensive ends to see what type of moves they were using to determine what I needed to work on during practice."
Shell, hampered last season by a troublesome shoulder following surgery in the spring of his senior year in high school, realizes he is being counted on by South Carolina offensive line coach Shawn Elliott to become a major contributor for the Gamecocks this upcoming season.
"I'm very excited to finally get some playing time," the 6-foot-6, 331-pound Shell said. "I'm going work very hard to earn the starting job at left tackle. Coach Elliott told me to work hard, be mean and get ready to play."
Shell contended last season wasn't so much frustrating as it was a learning process as he sought to adjust to the ever-increasing demands the SEC puts on the players.
"I learned from watching the other players that were in there," Shell said. "Coach Elliott told me the job was out there and it was up to me whether I was going to take it or not. It's up for grabs. Now I just have to prove I want it."
Six weeks ago, coach Steve Spurrier told an audience in Hartsville, S.C., that Shell looked the part of a major college offensive linemen destined to excel at the next level.
"Brandon Shell was a highly-recruited young man. We hope he's going to come in and be a starting tackle for us this year," Spurrier told the Hartsville crowd. "He looks like an offensive lineman. If you've seen those guys in the NFL that are about 6-6, 315 pounds, that's Brandon Shell. He looks good."
Shell took the accolades in stride.
"It's a good compliment, but I just have to get through college first," Shell said on Friday. "I have to be a good college player before I can be a good NFL player."
Shell often overpowered opposing defensive players with his sheer mammoth size when he starred for Goose Creek High School. But now he must rely on "way more" technique and fundamentals to block defenders because some of them are almost as big as he is.
The national media is certainly taking notice of Shell and his potential impact on the Gamecock offense this season.
The SEC bloggers for ESPN.com ranked the USC offensive line as fifth-best in the SEC (No. 1 in the SEC East) and wrote this about Shell: "Replacing Rokevious Watkins at left tackle won't be easy, but the staff feels like redshirt freshman Brandon Shell might be the man for the job. He's incredibly talented and athletic and improved his blocking ability during his redshirt year."
ANDERSON EYES NEXT LEVEL: Sophomore tight end Rory "Buster" Anderson enjoyed a productive freshman campaign as the top backup to Justice Cunningham with eight receptions. The Powder Springs, Ga., native showed big play ability by averaging 23.5 yards per reception, the highest figure on the team, and collecting three touchdowns, the second highest total on the team. Only Alshon Jeffery had more TD receptions than Anderson. Now he's looking to shift into a higher gear.
"I just want to work harder. I'm still learning more (about the offense) and every position that I can," Anderson said. "I want to come in with a different mentality. As a freshman, you're just glad to be here at first. You realize this is what you've been working for your whole life. You just want to come in and do the best you can and make everybody proud.
"Now, I see myself as someone who will play wherever they want me to be and whatever position they want me to play, I'm ready to go. We have plenty of tight ends ready to play this year."
Along with the rest of the tight ends, Anderson will have a new position coach in 2012 - Joe Robinson joined the staff in January from North Carolina after former running backs/tight end coach Jay Graham left for alma mater Tennessee. Anderson said he and Robinson clicked immediately.
"He's been great. He's been a lot of help," Anderson said. "He's also learning too. He's a great coach. As he learns, we learn more."
Anderson has also benefited from working with savvy senior Justice Cunningham every day. Cunningham isn't a flashy player, but he gets the job done on the field with his outstanding blocking skills and ability to catch the football in key situations when called upon. He enters the 2012 season considered one of the top tight ends in the SEC.
"Justice and I get along real well," Anderson said. "We're pretty good friends. We have to be. We're on the same team and we play the same position. We just go out and compete and get ready for the season."
-- Freshmen cornerbacks Chaz Elder and Rico McWilliams both said they have been told by USC's defensive coaches to work hard and be prepared to compete for a spot on the depth chart when pre-season camp opens on Aug. 3 at the Proving Ground.
-- ESPN.com bloggers Chris Low and Edward Aschoff rated USC's defensive line as the second-best in the SEC behind LSU: "In his second tour through the SEC, sophomore end Jadeveon Clowney is poised to wreak some serious havoc. His partner on the other side, senior Devin Taylor, is also All-SEC material. Sophomore tackle Kelcy Quarles should take a big step, and senior tackle Byron Jerideau was one of the team's most improved players this spring."
-- Quarles was not ranked among the top 10 defensive tackles in the SEC. ESPN.com will release the names of the top 10 defensive ends on Monday. Clowney and Taylor are both expected to be on the list.
-- Here is where ESPN.com ranked USC in the new 14-team SEC at each of the offensive positions:
Quarterbacks: No. 7
Running Back: No. 2 (Marcus Lattimore was the top RB)
Wide Receiver/Tight Ends: No. 12
Offensive Line: No. 5
-- ESPN.com listed USC offensive line coach Shawn Elliott as one of the hot, up-and-coming assistant coaches in the SEC for 2012: "Steve Spurrier has raved about Elliott's impact on offense and bringing in the zone read package. Elliott has done wonders for South Carolina's offensive line, which was a continual sore spot in Spurrier's early years at the school. Elliott is also a dogged recruiter. Having grown up in Camden, S.C., Elliott is somebody to watch when Spurrier hangs it up. If he doesn't get that job, somebody is going to snap him up."
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