GamecockAnthem.com takes an in-depth look at five storylines to watch as South Carolina's spring practice 2011 starts this afternoon.
Spring Preview: Storylines to watch
The John Butler Factor
For the third time in the last four years South Carolina will entire spring practice with a new Special Teams Coordinator. Former Minnesota Special Teams Coordinator and linebackers coach John Butler will participate in his first practice as a Gamecock this afternoon and his approach to that job will be one of the most talked about storylines of the 2011 spring.
Butler is a bit of an unknown to South Carolina fans but if Steve Spurrier's most recent hires are any indication, Butler should be completely up to the task of improving the Gamecocks' special teams. He also comes to Carolina with the recommendation of strength coach Craig Fitzerald, one of Spurrier's most impressive hires to date. Fitzgerald was also an unknown when the Gamecocks landed him a few years ago.
Butler will have plenty of decisions early as he has to replace Spencer Lanning who handled the kicking and punting duties for the last two years. Butler will also have his hands full trying to improve return units that were in a word bad last year.
Butler should have athletes to work with as Spurrier has made it clear that he wants his best players on special teams. Just as important as Butler himself will be how much time Spurrier plans to put into special teams during practice.
Another Battle at QB
Those who did not enjoy last offseason's quarterback competition that lingered all the way up until late into fall practice should probably just stop following the Gamecocks' offseason. Stephen Garcia may be a fifth-year senior and Connor Shaw just a true sophomore but the quarterback position is always open to competition when Spurrier is running the show and these two will likely battle it out until the end this year as well.
Spurrier has always been a believer in competition at the position and quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus prescribes to that theory as well. While Shaw isn't as experienced as Garcia, he is a more natural quarterback and a tireless worker and film-watcher off the field. Garcia did lead the Gamecocks to the SEC Championship game last season and that should be overlooked, either.
Will a year in the system be enough for Shaw to overtake Garcia? Or will Garcia continue to improve and work hard entering his final season at Carolina? Regardless, South Carolina feels good about it's situation at quarterback. But this storyline will be one to watch throughout the spring and into the fall.
Who steps up on the o-line?
Perhaps the biggest question facing the 2011 Gamecocks will be offensive line. Sound familiar? T.J. Johnson, Kevious Watkins and Kyle Nunn are proven commodities but offensive line coach Shawn Elliott will be assessing his options to fill the other two positions and find back-ups all spring.
The most eyes will likely be on junior college transfer Kaleb Broome. Broome has a nice combination of size and athleticism and impressed the Carolina coaches with his nasty streak on the field, but will have to prove he can do it at the SEC level. While Nunn will more than likely start at one tackle spot, Broome will battle with Cody Gibson for the other this spring (Brandon Shell joins the fold in the Fall). While Gibson wasn't extremely highly recruited, he can't be overlooked here and enters camp listed as the starter at right tackle.
At left guard sixth-year senior Terrence Campbell and redshirt freshman A.J. Cann will mostly likely battle it out for a starting position. Campbell has the experience but has never really locked in and grabbed a starting position. Cann was highly recruited and has worked hard in the offseason with the goal of starting this season.
Elliott has some options but the coaching staff will likely feel much better about their summer if a couple of linemen step up in the spring.
There may be no more sure thing for the Gamecocks in 2011 that as long as he's healthy that Marcus Lattimore will be the Gamecocks starting running back in the season opener against ECU.
The real question: who backs him up?
Spring practice will feature a closely watched battle between juniors Kenny Miles and Eric Baker.
Miles was the team's leading rusher in 2009 but struggled to get on the field last year before breaking out for 70 yards in the Chick-fil-a Bowl. Baker showed promise as a freshman but has battled injuries ever since.
While freshman Shon Carson will have his say in the Fall, Miles and Baker are talented and have some experience, so this competition should continue throughout the spring and into the fall.