June 8, 2007

The Smelley Story: Get quicker, stronger, better

Backup quarterback Chris Smelley was quickly thrown into the fire last season as a true freshman.

But, looking back, it was an experience he would go through again.

Smelley began last season thinking he would likely spend the year watching and learning. When starter Blake Mitchell suffered an injury and had to come out less than 30 minutes into the season opener, he was on the field barking signals against Mississippi State's defense.

Smelley eventually took a limited number of snaps in USC's first two games before a nagging heel injury ended his season prematurely. He completed 9-of-15 passes for 112 yards to finish with a passing efficiency rating of 122.72.

He'll start the 2007 campaign as a redshirt freshman - and have four seasons of eligibility remaining - after applying to the NCAA for a medical redshirt.

Smelley says he's glad he experienced the excitement of playing so soon in his career.

"It was great. Getting in there and feeling the pressure of a game situation in my first college game was a little unexpected," Smelley said. "But that's another part of learning. The next time I get in there, I've already been there with the lights and the big crowd. It should definitely help me out."

Despite being sidelined with the heel injury, head coach Steve Spurrier made sure Smelley still enjoyed the full experience of being a quarterback for a SEC team.

"I got to travel with the team every game and be on the sidelines and be around the coaches when they were calling in plays," Smelley said. "The more knowledge you can take in, the better player you'll be. The whole experience last year, playing the two games, traveling with the team, sitting in on the meetings will eventually help me when I get another chance in a game."

Since he's been with the Gamecocks less than a year, Smelley knew spring practice would be a critical towards his development.

It was.

"I thought I had a pretty decent spring," Smelley said. "I got better towards the end of the spring. We still have some stuff to work on over the summer. We definitely have to get better."

With the start of fall camp two months away, Smelley continues to diligently work on his skills as he prepares to battle Tommy Beecher and Stephen Garcia for the No. 2 QB job behind Blake Mitchell.

He said he's getting more and more comfortable with Steve Spurrier's sophisticated offensive system.

Smelley believes he took major strides towards becoming a reliable quarterback over the course of the 15 spring practice workouts.

"Coming into spring practice, I wanted to mainly familiarize myself more with the offense and get to where I was comfortable so I could go out and make plays for the team and move the ball," Smelley said. "It was a learning process. I feel comfortable with the offense right now. I had my ups and downs but I could go out there now and contribute if I had to."

Smelley started slow but soon gained momentum as the spring moved along. A shoulder injury suffered by Tommy Beecher allowed him to take nearly every snap in the spring game for the Black team.

He completed 10-of-22 passes for 83 yards to lead the Black team to a 14-7 victory.

"At the beginning of the spring, I was definitely struggling a little bit," Smelley said. "It started to get better with each practice and each scrimmage. It takes a lot of reps and spending a lot of time in there. It's coming along."

While not posting overwhelming numbers, Smelley believes facing a defense going full speed for the first time in months accelerated his development.

"I think it was really good for me to get out there and see what I could do with a little pressure," Smelley said. "I think I established myself as a better quarterback. It's starting to come together. I'm really looking forward to next season."

Smelley believes his spring game performance will boost his confidence as he continues preparations for the pivotal 2007 season.

"It was good to go out there and make a few plays in front of a big crowd," Smelley said. "I think it definitely helped my confidence."

Smelley established a number of goals for himself over the spring.

"My goals were basically about how I performed and how hard I worked and everything like that," Smelley said. "I gave 100 percent effort every day. I definitely got better. As I said before, I have a lot to work on over the summer."

While talking to reporters towards the end of spring practice, Spurrier challenged Smelley to improve throwing the football, particularly the fade pass.

Smelley says he has taken Spurrier's words to heart.

"He always going to be on you if you're not doing what you're supposed to be doing." Smelley said. "He's always behind you but he's always pushing you as hard as he can for you to get better. Yeah, Coach Spurrier is hard on you but all great coaches are like that.

"They can't always be easy and rosy. Sometimes they have to get tough and get in your face a little bit. That's how Coach Spurrier coaches sometimes. It's a great thing. It's worked in the past and it's working now. I can take criticism. The key is you have to take all the criticism and use it to make yourself better."

Smelley worked closely with USC quarterbacks coach David Reaves this past spring, and will likely do the same thing when fall camp opens.

"Coach Reaves has definitely been more involved more with the quarterbacks," Smelley said. "He's worked with us more one-on-one. But Coach Spurrier's heart is always with the quarterbacks."

Spurrier provided his quarterbacks with a summer workout plan. After spending May at home in Tuscaloosa, Ala., he returned this week to USC for summer conditioning workouts.

"Repetition is the main thing for a quarterback," Smelley said. "If you do it a hundred times at practice, the one time you do it in the game it will work for you. It takes constant repetition."

After facing USC's aggressive defense throughout the spring, he marvels at how good the Gamecocks should be on that side of the ball in 2007.

"Our defense has a chance to be really good next year," Smelley said. "Our offense does too. We have a chance to be a good team. We just have to come together."

Smelley's main objective this summer? Get quicker both physically and mentally.

"I just have to get to where I can move as quick as I can and make decisions as quickly as possible," Smelley said. "I want to know all my assignments. I'm getting close to that point. Once I know what I'm doing and I know what needs to be done every single play, and get to where I can move as quickly as I can, I'll be ready."

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