With the offseason officially underway, SDS will examine what’s next for spring football for all 14 teams. Next up, South Carolina.
South Carolina will be the second SEC team to open spring practice tomorrow, and the Gamecocks will have their annual spring game April 12th. Let’s dive into their spring camp and see what the crystal ball says about spring practice.
What’s changing for the Gamecocks is all about the personnel that’s leaving at key positions. Quarterback Connor Shaw leaves a lasting Carolina legacy, while receiver Bruce Ellington and three starting defensive linemen also exit the program. Jadeveon Clowney, Kelcy Quarles and Chaz Sutton will all have to be replaced. The Gamecocks were able to keep their coaching staff intact for another season, a trademark of the Steve Spurrier era, who has experienced low coaching turnover.
Position of concern
Yes, losing Connor Shaw is certainly concerning, knowing the massive impact he had on the offense, but the defensive line is the most pertinent to the team. Losing Clowney, Quarles and Sutton is tough to stomach. So, you have two defensive ends and the SEC’s top defensive tackle to replace. That’s not easy to do, but Lorenzo Ward has done a fabulous job the last two years helping lead the defense to be a consistent top-five performer. This will probably be his toughest job yet. A trademark of Carolina’s success started with the pass rush, and being Clowney and Quarles-less, it is concerning. Watch out for defensive end Darius English to take a major step this spring; he needs to become a bigger impact player in 2014.
RELATED: SEC Pre-Spring Power Rankings
Position of strength
This will be Steve Spurrier’s best offensive line to date. We said that last year, but he returns four of five starters, losing only guard Roland Patrick. Tackles Brandon Shell and Corey Robinson, along with experienced guard AJ Cann, will help pave the way for running back Mike Davis and give more than ample time to new starter Dylan Thompson. This unit is big, physical and possesses next-level talent.
Three signees who will get you excited
1. Bryson Allen-Williams, LB: Talk about a coveted player – BAW has all the athletic ability to be an early impact player in an overall linebacking corps. He will hit campus this summer.
2. Abu Lamin, DT: The Gamecocks need immediate help at defensive tackle, and Lamin is an early enrollee. The 6-3, 300-pound tackle is ready to contribute and help fill Kelcy Quarles’ vacancy.
3. Chris Lammons, CB: With the loss of two starting corners, Chris Lammons’ signature was so important. He’s a big-time player who could contribute immediately in the secondary at a major position of need.
Spring’s primary position battle
All eyes will be on the Carolina defensive ends. With losing Clowney and Sutton, Darius English should win one starting spot, although it’s not certain. Gerald Dixon and Mason Harris will likely compete to start opposite English. Also watch out for Cedric Cooper, who was a former linebacker turned defensive end, to add a little more speed off the edge. Lorenzo Ward will rotate defensive linemen throughout every game, and the staff will start to identify the contenders from the pretenders this spring.
Emerging spring player prediction
This will be the spring where we see receiver Shaq Roland assume a leadership role and become a major contributor. Roland caught 25 passes for 455 yards and five touchdowns last year, but with the loss of Bruce Ellington, Roland will be under the microscope. This will be his third year in the offense, and it’s time for the light switch to completely turn ‘on’.
Offseason’s burning question
After three straight 11-win seasons, what does Steve Spurrier have to do to win a championship?
Gamecocks’ offseason crystal ball
Deep down, Coach Spurrier knows he has the roster to win a championship in 2014. That starts with quarterback Dylan Thompson and a veteran offensive unit. Assuming the defensive line can continue to cause disruption to opponents, it’s hard to argue the Gamecocks aren’t the Eastern division favorites heading into 2014.
Photo Credit: Curtis Wilson-USA TODAY Sports