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December 16, 2010

King Talks Through Play

Jarriel King is a talker. Impressively glib and well-spoken for a man his size, he takes the notion of the "big ugly" offensive lineman and throws it out the nearest window.

Which is why asking for him to be allowed to talk during South Carolina's season is especially hard. King responds honestly to every question, something that coaches or administrators don't necessarily want to see in an athlete.

"Big ups to coach (Steve) Spurrier and the rest of the offensive coordinators and the staff, because they are really putting a lot more into really coaching," King said at the team's preseason Media Day, one of the few times King was cleared to speak. "I can't put my finger on it, but the approach that they are taking to it during this camp is real phenomenal."

See? It's not that bad, but it's one of those things that someone might read and think, "Well, what caused THIS year to start 'really coaching?'" King was equally open about playing for three different line coaches during his USC tenure, describing how happy he was to be playing for first-year coach Shawn Elliott.

"Every coach has a certain style, and every coach can't coach on every team," King said. "Some coaches coach better on certain teams. I'm not saying that coach (Eric) Wolford and coach (John) Hunt weren't good coaches, I'm just saying that with coach Elliott here, I see a lot of changes."

Sigh.

King may not be allowed to speak much after practice, but he is doing a fine job of talking on the field. At 6-foot-5 and 310 pounds, it didn't take long for King to claim the all-important left tackle job once he got to USC, the big man rising past medication and two surgical procedures to stabilize an irregular heartbeat to play an important role.

Trusted to protect quarterback Stephen Garcia's blind side, King started the last seven of USC's first nine games this season at left tackle. He is hoping to make his last season his best yet, and perhaps impress the NFL the same way his mentor, Jamon Meredith, did.

"I'm sitting here learning what's going on, day-by-day," King said. "Even though they're practicing, when we get in the meeting room, my eyes are wide open. I'm looking, I'm writing down notes, and writing down plays, so when I get back there will be no misconception about what's going on. I don't feel like I'm missing a step at all."

It may be a longshot for King to get to the next level -- there is no such thing as a minor heart procedure and let's face it, one good year may not be enough to overcome recent bad ones -- but King likes his chances. The offensive line's disappointments of the recent few years have not been his fault, but he has had to bear some of the blame for them.

This year, Elliott is turning a group that is not that talented into toughened warriors. The Gamecocks won't be winning any prizes for sheer ability, but their passion of playing hard for their coach certainly is a main story of the season.

"He'll shoot you a text message or something like that, just saying, 'What's up?,'" King said. "He brings a lot of camaraderie to our unit. We feel good going into meetings. We're not going to have a good time, it's not a party, but it's not a beat-them-down session. It's what it's supposed to be -- it's learning."

Elliott doesn't know about King's NFL prospects because they are not for him to decide. What he does like is King's increasing reliability on the field.

"He's an athletic guy," Elliott said. "He can run, he's pretty physical. He's playing pretty good right now. Not a lot of mistakes from him. He's developing a little bit of leadership, so he's coming along."

Now, if they can get the verbal part under control ...

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