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August 23, 2010

Gamecocks Mulling Options at TE

With the season-opener 10 days away, South Carolina is getting closer toward finalizing the two-deep depth chart. While there will be some snap decisions to make in the next week, particularly at quarterback, offensive line and linebacker, one position seems to be as open as it ever has been.

Who will be the starting tight end on Sept. 2?

The position has been in flux since Aug. 11, when projected starter Patrick DiMarco sustained a hairline fracture in his left forearm. While DiMarco can still run during drills and has been keeping himself in shape, insisting that he can play through the injury, he hasn't practiced fully since then.

"I'll be fine," DiMarco said when it happened. "I'll just pad it up and be able to play."

DiMarco, in all likelihood, will be fitted with a heavy pad and have his arm wrapped for the opener, so he can continue his starting duties. But he will likely also be starting at fullback, which leaves the position open.

Weslye Saunders continues to look physically impressive and is in the best shape of his career, but as the NCAA investigation into him progresses, USC can't take a chance of penciling him into the lineup. Coach Steve Spurrier recently said that he feels confident the Gamecocks will have a decision on Saunders by Sept. 2, but if it still doesn't come, the coaches will have to gamble.

It wouldn't make any sense to start or play Saunders, knowing if he is found guilty and has to sit a game or multiple games, it would hurt USC. The Gamecocks can't take the chance of facing a potential forfeit after the fact.

That leaves the position up to a returning player and a previously unthought-of candidate who wasn't on the preseason depth chart. Sophomore Justice Cunningham is back and so is redshirt sophomore Mike Triglia.

Cunningham drew praise last year for being a superior blocker to Saunders, but swapping him out came with a price. While Cunningham did catch two balls for 23 yards in 2009, he also dropped a few.

It became a catch-22 for the coaches. Saunders could catch but wasn't a great blocker; Cunningham was the opposite. The switch also clued in defenses to when the tight end might get a pass or they had to watch for a play to the tight end's side, when a lead tackler could get laid out by a block.

Cunningham could get a call, but he has some competition. Triglia is making his move after two years either on the bench or solely on special teams.

"It doesn't affect me," Triglia said of the uncertainty over the position. "I just come out here and try to get better every day. It shouldn't affect me, because I personally need to get better every day and just come out and do what my coaches ask me to do. That's all I can do and all I can ask for."

With the labrum in his right shoulder held together by four anchors, Triglia is finally healthy and able to produce. He has caught six passes for 54 yards in the last three scrimmages and hasn't been shy about sticking his nose into a charging defensive end.

"It's feeling pretty good right now," Triglia said. "I was out here working with (strength coach Craig Fitzgerald) and he had me going. They're pretty good about making sure you're 100 percent because you don't want to mess around with a shoulder injury like that."

As they do at their other positions, the Gamecocks have options at tight end. But while they're relatively certain who will win the spots at the others, tight end remains open.

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