There are three seasons in the south; recruiting season, spring season, and football season. The first season is over and, unfortunately, we are still around six months away from the third season. But spring season started on Tuesday as the South Carolina football team hit the practice fields for the first of 15 practices that concludes with the Garnet and Black Spring Game on April 14th.
"A lot of our guys were hustling and running around; the effort was good," coach Steve Spurrier said. "Throwing and catching at times looked good, at other times not so good. The defense looked pretty sharp. It was a good first day and hopefully we'll do better as the week progresses and get ready to have an excellent spring game."
The Gamecocks are coming off the most successful season in the history of the program. They won eleven games following the bowl win over Nebraska in Orlando in January and swept the SEC East and thumped rival Clemson for the third season in a row.
Though Spurrier said the team is still waiting for the rings to come in commemorating the season, the focus now is the 2012 season that begins on August 30th with a trip to Nashville to take on Vanderbilt.
"We don't talk about it too much. Certainly it was neat to get that eleventh win two and a half months ago, but we're just trying to get this team ready to go and this team has a chance to be pretty good. We didn't look very good today, but this team has some potential I believe."
The team enters the spring season in excellent shape. Multiple sources spoke on how hard the team worked out in the summer with leaders like Marcus Lattimore and Connor Shaw leading the way. Spurrier echoed those sentiments Tuesday.
"Our guys had an excellent winter conditioning," Spurrier said. "Joe Connor, our strength coach, and his staff did a super job getting our guys into a position to give the effort and they have done it. I'm really impressed with the times, the lifts, the strength, and the conditioning of our team right now."
One player that was not out there was former receiver Bruce Ellington. Ellington was used primarily as a kickoff returner in his only season on the football field, but did catch 17 passes for 211 yards and one touchdown, a 49-yard catch against Clemson. He also played quarterback sparingly in the ‘Wildcat' formation. Ellington decided to stick with basketball and whoever is named the new coach following Darrin Horn's firing Tuesday morning.
"It was up to him; it was up to him when he came out," Spurrier said. "That's a decision a young man has to make. Heck, I had to make one when I came out of high school. Basketball was my love, too, because there was nothing in football I could do very good. Somebody told me there's a bunch of 6'2 basketball players but back in my day there weren't very many 6'2 quarterbacks. Hopefully it will work out for Bruce. We're all for him and wish him the best."
One player that was out there that many thought would not be back for the 2012 season is running back Kenny Miles. With Lattimore and Shon Carson returning from season-ending injuries along with the emerging Brandon Wilds, it was not known if Miles would return for his final season. When Tuesday came, #31 was out there with the running backs.
"Kenny looked sharp; he's ready to go," Spurrier said. "He was out there running around and we fully expect him to be ready. He's one injury away from being the guy so he knows the potential there. If Marcus stays healthy there's still a place for him there."
The place with the most question marks entering the spring is the offensive line. Offensive line coach Shawn Elliott lost Terrence Campbell at guard and Kyle Nunn and Rokevious Watkins at tackle. Nunn missed most of the 2011 season with a back injury and blood clot in his leg, which gave freshmen Cody Gibson and Mike Matulis plenty of experience. Matulis made the most of his opportunity and won the job for most of the season. Matulis looks to be a starter at one tackle, but the other is still a bit up in the air. Redshirt freshman Brandon Shell could be the favorite to start at the other tackle, but Gibson will get a look as will the largest man on the team, 6'8, 350-pound Corey Robinson. Robinson redshirted his freshman season and moved over to the defensive line last season, but did not play. He will return back to the offensive line this season.
"Brandon is out there running with the first group," Spurrier said. "We moved big Corey Robinson back on the offense. Corey hasn't done much since he's been here, but he showed very good effort in winter conditioning so Corey Robinson is one of our offensive tackles now."
Tuesday was the debut for several new coaches. Grady Brown will coach the secondary and serve as assistant special teams coordinator, Kirk Botkin will coach the linebackers/spurs, Joe Robinson is the new special teams coordinator and tight ends coach, and Everette Sands will take over as the running backs coach.
"They're excellent teachers, which is what I like," Spurrier said of the new hires. "I like to see guys coach and not criticize so much this time of year; just teaching and teaching and encouraging and so forth. I think they're excellent additions."
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