The 2011 football season is upon us. The South Carolina football team hit the practice fields for the first time Wednesday night under the lights at the ‘Proving Grounds' in front of a few thousand eager Gamecock fans. Every player entered through the gates to an applause from the fans, none louder than the applause for freshman phenom Jadeveon Clowney and 2010 Freshman of the Year Marcus Lattimore.
The quarterbacks drew somewhat of a confused round of applause as they were the only group to enter the practice facility with their helmets on. The reason for the confusion? The six quarterbacks all pulled the old number switch. A very small #5 jogged across the field - later to be revealed as Tanner McEvoy - and a much larger #19 - Stephen Garcia - jogged across the field in a #19 jersey. The two - along with the other quarterbacks -changed into their regular jersey when they got to their side of the field.
The biggest improvement to the coaches was the increase in team speed.
"I thought it was a good practice," head coach Steve Spurrier said. "All the coaches were noticing the difference in our team speed - our speed has really improved with the addition of a lot of players as well as the conditioning work. We've got a fast team. Hopefully we've got a team that could really play well."
Spurrier showed high praise for freshmen Damiere Byrd, Shamier Jeffery, Shon Carson, and newcomer Bruce Ellington. None were more impressive than Clowney, who played ‘too fast.'
"He plays too fast out here," Spurrier laughingly said. "We've got to teach him practice speed. He was going round and round (offensive tackle) Will Sport faster than (he could block). We try to let the quarterbacks throw the ball in these kinds of drills with no pads on, but we can't slow Jadeveon down. I think we're going to have to take him out of the game to slow him down."
Defensive line coach Brad Lawing is obviously happy to have a player of his caliber, but is taking a cautious approach.
"Didn't really yell at him - just had to kind of push him," Lawing said. "He's a typical freshman - has to learn how to finish plays, run to the ball. He had some missed assignments but all freshmen do that."
Lawing attributes a lot of the credit for Clowney's - and high school teammate Gerald Dixon's - knowledge of the game to his South Pointe High School coach Bobby Carroll.
"Bobby Carroll and his staff did a great job with him in high school," Lawing said. "He, and Gerald, too, understand ball. You can tell some of the kids that come from a real good program."
Clowney's attention to the game may be what gets him on the field sooner rather than later.
"He's made a big effort all day to learn," Lawing said. "We had three meetings and a couple of walk-throughs and he's attentive. He wants to do good and wants to please. He knows the attention that's been paid to him through the recruiting process and he wants to live up to it. I thought one of the best things about him in high school when I watched him practice and watched him play was he was so competitive. He had a relentless desire to be good and I saw that today too."
Assistant head coach Ellis Johnson said it was a ‘typical' first day for the defense as a whole.
"It was just typical first day," Johnson said. "Older kids have good retention, younger kids make a lot of mistakes. Good film now that we can teach off of and they can learn. We loaded them up - we try and go real slow in the spring, but in the fall we don't have that luxury so we really have some a little overloaded. I don't know if I can get into individual comments. Overall it was just a typical first day. I thought the effort was great - especially with the heat - and the attitude is great."
Johnson says they are still looking to fix some problems that cost the Gamecocks dearly in 2010 and looking for some players to step up at two positions that are wide open.
"We did not solve our problems at one of the safeties in the spring, and we've still got to find out who one of those guys is at one of the tackles," Johnson said.
While D.J. Swearinger has locked down one of the safety positions, the other is still up for grabs. Sophomore Jimmy Legree is currently the listed starter at the other position, but fellow sophomore Corey Addison and freshmen Sharrod Golightly and Brison Williams will also get consideration.
Travian Robertson has locked down on the of the defensive tackle position, but the other is just as open as the safety position. Aldrick Fordham is currently listed as the starter, but the coaches have been real impressed with Kelcy Quarles and Byron Jerideau. Both could make a push for that position. It's also not out of the realm of possibility to see Clowney take over the defensive end position opposite Devin Taylor and Melvin Ingram slide down to the other defensive tackle. That will already be the case in third down situations.
The linebackers are a ‘youth versus age' position according to Johnson.
"It's not a concern at that position, it's more of a wait-and-see to see who's going to win that job," Johnson said. "Some of those kids who want to battle at those spots have really worked hard in the off season and have done a lot of things that is going to give them a chance to make that break."
When you have guys like Shaq Wilson, Rodney Paulk, Quin Smith, and Damario Jeffery battling for the two linebacker positions, and Antonio Allen and Devonte Holloman battling for the Spur position, it's always going to be a heated battle. There's no doubt that the front seven has the talent and ability to be one of the best.
Back on the other side of the ball, Spurrier gave his annual quarterback controversy comments.
"Connor Shaw threw the ball extremely well tonight," Spurrier said. "I thought he really had a lot of good throws as most of you could see.
"He (Garcia) still had a little bit of a sinker every now and then, but he threw pretty well most of the night. It'll be Stephen and Conner. Those two should supply our quarterback play this year."
Garcia and Shaw both had similar days in the seven-on-seven and eleven-on-eleven drills, and were both light years ahead of Dylan Thompson, Tanner McEvoy, Andrew Clifford, and Seth Strickland.
The team will practice again tomorrow night at 7:30 and it will be open to the public.
"I appreciate the fans coming out and we'll be out here again tomorrow night," Spurrier said. "We thought about it and said ‘why not have the fans come out?' I notice all those pro teams let their fans come and seems like us college boys don't think we're supposed to let them come. We may be about the only SEC team that opens it up that I know of, but we're going to keep it open for about a week or two. We don't have any secrets to hide out here and maybe some of the guys run a little fast when they see all the fans. Nice to see all the fans come out."
- Alshon Jeffery did not practice tonight due to a fender bender on Tuesday according to Spurrier. Spurrier said he will miss a few days.
- Akeem Auguste was in a yellow jersey and did not practice due to a foot injury.
- Offensive linemen Brandon Shell (shoulder) and Mike Matulis (foot) went through some offensive line drills but did not participate in any kind of contact drills. Matulis still has a walking boot on his left foot
- Sheldon Royster was in a yellow jersey, but did go through drills as well. Johnson said it was due to some surgery Royster had some time ago and they are limiting him a bit early on.
- Qua Gilchrist and Dalton Wilson were in yellow jerseys due to shoulder injuries, but did participate in practice.
- Gerald Dixon (South Pointe) also had a yellow jersey, but did go through all the drills.
None of the injuries appear all that severe and all players listed should be back within the next week or two.
Football season is here!
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