Notebook: Taking the next step

The University of South Carolina tasted success in 2010, claiming its first Southeastern Conference Eastern Division title. It only left coach Steve Spurrier and his team thirsting for more, however, as back-to-back losses to Auburn in the league title game and Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Bowl sent the team home unfulfilled.

The good news for the Gamecocks is seven starters return on offense and eight on defense. Included is consensus National Freshman of the Year Marcus Lattimore at tailback, All-American wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and quarterback Stephen Garcia.

Three starters return in the offensive line, led by center T. J. Johnson and right guard Roekevious Watkins.

Defensively, Travian Robertson, All-SEC performer Devin Taylor and Melvin Ingram return up front. Rodney Paulk is back at linebacker, while Shaq Wilson, the team's leading tackler in 2009, is back after missing the 2010 season with an injured hamstring.

Although the secondary struggled in defending against the pass, a talented crew led by cornerback Stephon Gilmore, Spur Antonio Allen and safeties DeVonte Holloman and Akeem Auguste returns.

With the realization the team could make much bigger waves in 2011, the team began winter workouts on Jan. 17 with vigor. There have been many standouts during the session. Most impressive, however, has been Lattimore who has not rested on his laurels. Instead he has opted to set an example, which proves why Spurrier has targeted recruits from winning high school programs in recent years.

Barring any key defections or injuries, the Gamecocks should enter the campaign again as the favorite to win the East.


OT Brandon Shell (Goose Creek High, Goose Creek, S.C.) The 6-foot-6, 318-pound Shell is one of the most imposing linemen to join the USC football program in years. After standout performances in the US Army All-American Game and the Shrine Bowl, he has positioned himself for potential playing time as a true freshman. Gamecock coach Steve Spurrier believes he could challenge to become the team's starter at left tackle.

DT Kelcy Quarles (Fork Union, Va., Military Academy, Hodges, S.C.) -- A Greenwood, S.C., Quarles enrolled for the spring semester after one year at Fork Union, which should allow him to enter the rotation as a defensive tackle. A Parade All-American out of high school, the son of former Gamecock offensive lineman Buddy Quarles appears to have the strength, speed and temperament to make an immediate impact.

DB Sheldon Royster (St. Peter's Prep, Woodbridge, N.J.) -- Royster has the ability to make an immediate impact at safety. The secondary can use the depth as it struggled against the pass last season.


--Quarterback Stephen Garcia had his best season as a Gamecock, passing for more than 3,000 yards. He played his best game of the season in a USC upset victory over then No. 1 ranked Alabama. Coach Steve Spurrier believes the senior must continue to improve if the team is to reach the heights he believes are possible. That is why he will give sophomore Connor Shaw every opportunity to win the position.

--With wide receiver Tori Gurley opting to leave in an attempt to make his mark in the NFL, an opportunity to become the No. 2 receiver behind All-American Alshon Jeffery has opened. The most likely candidates are D. L. Moore and Jason Barnes. Both are 6-foot-4 and in the 200-pound range, giving the team the physical presence the coaching staff desires at the position. Ace Sanders will have the opportunity to replace Gurley directly at the slot position.


Practice begins/ends: March 16/April 10.

Practice priorities: Two new starters and depth must be found in the offensive line. A talented group of performers who were mostly red-shirted appear prepared to step up and fill the void. Among the leading candidates are guard A.J. Cann, tackles Cody Gibson and Du'Von Milsap and center Ronald Patrick. A consistent backup for tailback Marcus Lattimore must be found. Kenny Miles, who was impressive in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, is the leading candidate.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "The team we've got coming back will have some great senior leaders. We have a real shot to go to a big BCS bowl next year, I believe." -- Running back Marcus Lattimore.


KEY LOSSES: Offensive tackles Jarriel King and Hutch Eckerson graduated, leading big voids. Redshirt freshmen Du'Von Milsap and Cody Gibson are the leading candidates to fill in, at least during the spring. Wide receiver Tori Gurley, who left school early to enter the NFL Draft, will be replaced by D.L. Moore and Jason Barnes. A replacement must also be found for fullback Patrick DiMarco, who was a devastating blocker. Matt Coffee will be given every opportunity to claim the spot.

On defense, end Cliff Matthews and tackle Ladi Ajiboye must be replaced. Freshman Kelcy Quarles and junior Byron Jerideau are the leading candidates.


LB Shaq Wilson -- Wilson, a redshirt junior, was the team's leading tackler in 2009 but missed the 2010 season with an injured hamstring. He was missed in the middle.

DT Kelcy Quarles -- The former Parade All-American's debut was put off a year while attending prep school. The coaching staff believes he can come in and make an immediate impact. With the loss of Ladi Ajiboye at tackle, there is an opening if he plays well enough in the spring to claim it.

QB Stephen Garcia -- Although he passed for 3,059 yards and drew praise from his head coach, Garcia will have to again fight to hold on to his starting position as Connor Shaw will be given every opportunity to compete. That appears to have ignited a fire under the rising senior as he has been one of the team leaders in offseason workouts.

FB Matt Coffee -- The graduation of Patrick DiMarco leaves a huge void as he proved to be possibly the most reliable and devastating blocker on the team. His blocks often started huge rushing games by freshman All-American Marcus Lattimore.


--RB Marcus Lattimore need stitches in his gums following a devastating first quarter hit in South Carolina's Chick-fil-A Bowl against Florida State. Steve Spurrier says the team will attempt to find the star runner a helmet that fits better. The hit did not faze Lattimore, however, as he has come back more determined than ever. He has been a workout warrior during the winter.

--CB Stephon Gilmore, despite making All-SEC, suffered a bit of a sophomore slump. He needs to re-gain his mojo if the secondary is to rebound from a subpar campaign against the pass.

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