Things to Watch For During Gamecocks Spring Practice


As we head into March, the Gamecock’s basketball teams head into postseason play, with the men’s team looking to finish strong in the SEC tourney and the women’s team looking to build on their SEC title with a possible Final Four run.  Carolina baseball is also in full swing with conference play starting this weekend.  Even with all that going on, fans will still have their eyes on the Bluff Road proving grounds when South Carolina football starts its Spring Practice on March 17th.  Here are a few of the key points I will be looking at leading to the Spring Game.

Replacing Dylan Thompson

The senior quarterback from Boiling Springs threw for a school single season record of 3564 yards last year, to go along with 26 touchdowns.  One of the problems with the Gamecocks being unable to put away opponents last season was that none of the back-up QBs got a chance to get any real game experience.  Sophomore Connor Mitch and junior Perry Orth will be the two most likely candidates to battle it out for next year’s starting QB position.  Mitch was a 4 star recruit, and the highest rated player at that position to come to USC since Spurrier became head coach, yet he has had very little playing time and could never quite separate himself from the others as Dylan’s top back-up last year.  There has been talk amongst Gamecock fans about how his play, albeit a limited sample, left them unprepared to pin next year’s hopes on Mitch.  I disagree with that assessment, since it is hard to get a read on any player, especially a QB, who does not get “first team” preparation during practice and sees action only in garbage time of a few games.  The other QB with limited game experience is Orth, a former walk-on that we know even less about.  He will be in the battle for the position, based on numbers and the fact that Spurrier seems to like his development and work ethic.  New freshman Lorenzo Nunez will not arrive until the summer and it is unknown whether he will be a factor in the QB rotation next year.

Filling O-line Holes

A.J. Cann and Corey Robinson are both very large men, and will leave equally large vacancies in what was a solid offensive line for the 2014 Gamecocks.  Cann started every game at left guard for the past 4 seasons, and will likely be a 1st or 2nd round NFL draft pick. Robinson is a mammoth left tackle who will also be taken in the NFL draft, so the entire left side of the o-line will need to be replaced.  Tackles Brandon Shell and Mike Matulis, along with center Alan Knott and guard/center Cody Waldrop will return for the Gamecocks so they will not be void of talent and experience.  However, replacing two NFL caliber linemen on the same side of the line will still be a difficult chore.  Shell will be a 4 year starter, while Waldrop and Knott both started multiple games last year and were solid contributors.  It has been a few seasons since Matulis was able to play in games due to a number of injuries, but when healthy he has shown the ability and versatility to step in and help.  Junior guard Will Sport has played occasionally over the past two seasons, and sophomore Mason Zandi is a huge tackle, 6’9” 300lbs, who should also get a look to replace the linemen that left.  Highly recruited kids like Malik Young, D.J. Park, and Donnell Stanley all redshirted as freshman and will now have a shot to work their way into the mix as well.   

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Physicality On Defense

Last season’s defensive problems are well documented, and led to John Hoke being hired to help the D return to the level of play it had shown in the previous 5-6 seasons.  There was a lot of focus on upgrading the talent on the d-line in this year’s recruiting cycle, with Qua Lewis and Dexter Wideman already enrolled and available to participate in spring practice. The physicality of those practices will be something to look out for, with tackling and toughness being the major issues during this past season.  It will be interesting to see if more hitting in practice will help address the lack of tackling, and maybe bring some more toughness to a defense that seemed to lack it for most of the 2014 season.  The Gamecock coaches will also be looking for someone to emerge as a playmaker, another factor sorely missing from the last two seasons.  Some of the overall shortcomings from last season could have been masked to a degree, if the defense had had that one player who could change a game by making a big play, i.e sack, forced fumble, or interception to end a drive or take away a scoring threat.

Another Receiver Besides Pharoh

Pharoh Cooper broke out last season as a star player not only in the South Carolina offense, but a star playmaker on the SEC and national levels.  His versatility and ability may see him garnering All-American and maybe even Heisman hype heading into the 2015 season.  Now wide receiver’s coach Steve Spurrier Jr will have to use spring practice to find out who will be the second and third options when it comes to the Gamecock passing game.  Freshmen Deebo Samuel, Terry Googer, and Shaq Davidson all redshirted their first year on campus, and at least one of those three will need to emerge as a reliable playmaker to take both pressure and opposing defenses focus off of Cooper.  Samuel was praised by coaches last fall, but seniors Nick Jones and Dymeire Byrd were already experienced options in place for last year’s team, with both, Jones especially, having  productive seasons.  Also looking to step into the rotation of pass catchers is Shamier Jeffery, who will look to finally reach his potential and step from Alshon’s shadow as his senior year goes along.  Jerell Adams is a big and athletic target at tight end, and will look to expand his roll now that senior TE Rory Anderson is off to the NFL.  Adams has the ability to be a matchup nightmare for opponents, but will need to add consistency to his combination of size and skill.

So as March 17th gets closer, these are just some of the things to look out for as the Gamecocks jump into spring practice and look to rebound from the disappointing 7-6 record from a year ago.  This will be an important off-season for South Carolina who will be out to prove that last year, and not the three seasons prior, was the aberration.  Eyes will be fixed on what develops at the Proving grounds in order to see if they have what it takes to get back to competing for SEC supremacy.  Practices will be open to the public, unless weather moves them to the indoor facility, and the Garnet and Black Spring Game will be on Saturday April 11th.