Spurrier: Shaw needs to be exceptional

South Carolina has its eyes set on a second SEC East Division championship in 2012 and hopes to win the school's first SEC Championship. In order to do that Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier needs quarterback Connor Shaw to take his game to the next level.

As South Carolina opened its final week of spring practice Tuesday afternoon at the Bluff Road practice fields, eyes continue to be on the quarterback position. While there is no battle over who will be the starting quarterback when Carolina opens up the 2012 college football season with a Thursday night battle with Vanderbilt on August 30th, it is hard to tell when you ask head coach Steve Spurrier.

"Connor (Shaw) didn't do much today," Spurrier said. "Connor was a little slow firing the ball and held on to it too long several times. (Back-up) Dylan (Thompson) got most of the snaps. Dylan probably looked better than all of them today."

Spurrier, who often seems to be too critical of his quarterbacks – particularly during spring and preseason workouts – did admit that Shaw has improved over the course of the spring.

"(Connor) did ok but not exceptional," Spurrier said. "He needs to start being exceptional. Maybe that will come here in the next three months or so."

While the constant criticism seemed to have a negative effect on former quarterback Stephen Garcia, Shaw says it isn't a problem to him and welcomes the criticism.

"He's always been like that and that's why we came to play for him," Shaw said. "He's only going to get us better. He lets you know what you messed up and we're thankful for that."

Spurrier's main complaint of Shaw is that he continues to hold on to the ball too long, a problem Garcia had his entire career at South Carolina. Last season Shaw had a tendency to tuck the ball and run too early instead of stepping up in the pocket and continuing to let the play develop. Shaw must find a balance between the two. In hopes of finding that balance, Shaw sought an NFL quarterback to study and picked one of the best. Shaw, a 6'1, 207-pound quarterback decided on New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees, a 6'0, 209-pound quarterback.

"His pocket awareness was the main thing I've been studying," Shaw said. "He scans the field all the time."

The other issue Shaw has had to fight through the last two seasons is a lack of reps. Splitting reps with Garcia has taken away some experience from Shaw, but after being the starting quarterback most of last season and all spring, quarterback coach G.A. Mangus says the experience is paying off.

"He's more comfortable," Mangus said. "Again it's reps; the more reps he gets the more comfortable he'll be. His comfort level is really good right now and that's where we want it."

The spring has given Shaw an opportunity to expound some on his game, mainly calling audibles. With the defense mainly running plays that are very vanilla with a lot of zone-coverage and little blitzing, Shaw has the opportunity to read the defense and make the proper audible.

"He understands the offense and he's very comfortable with where he's at knowledge-wise," Mangus said. "He's got his little things that he likes as most quarterbacks do. The more he continues to learn the more he will do that."

Whether or not Shaw will be exceptional in 2012 remains to be seen, but one thing is for sure; the Gamecocks need him to be exceptional if they want to compete for an SEC Championship

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