Spring brought plenty of change to the Gamecocks.
Steve Spurrier announced he will once again call plays. Included in those plays is a new zone-read running game that new offensive line coach and running game coordinator Shawn Elliot brought over from Appalachian State. That should favor incoming freshman Marcus Lattimore, the consensus No. 1 running back recruit in the nation.
But the biggest change may be at quarterback, where seemingly out of nowhere a controversy has sprung up.
Make no mistakes about it, Stephen Garcia exited spring as the team's No. 1 quarterback. Barring any of the kind of off-the-field issues that marred his freshman year, Garcia will head into August as the starter. But if the junior fails to prove to Spurrier that he truly has dedicated himself fully to leading the Gamecocks, you can expect a quick hook in favor of true freshman backup Connor Shaw.
Whichever quarterback is under center, he will require better protection from an offensive line that surrendered an SEC-worst 37 sacks last year.
Defensively, the Gamecocks will be built around a talented and speedy secondary, led by rising sophomore star Stephon Gilmore. There may be some concerns up front, especially at the defensive end spot opposite of Cliff Matthews.
Overall, South Carolina will head into August practice with high expectations, but also plenty of question marks. The most pressing are at the quarterback and offensive line.
--In the South Carolina spring game, starting quarterback Stephen Garcia completed 8-of-15 passes for 79 yards, a touchdown and one interception that slipped through the intended receiver's hands. Garcia's biggest competition freshman Connor Shaw completed 4 of 8 attempts for 59 yards and a touchdown.
Stephon Gilmore, the Gamecocks' quarterback in their Wildcat package, got a few snaps, with little to no success. He threw an interception on one of his two pass attempts and didn't pick up any yards on the ground.
--The tight end position was added to fullback Patrick DiMarco's duties in the spring. DiMarco took advantage of the opportunity to expand his role and was rewarded by being named offensive player of the spring by the coaches.
WR D.L. Moore -- Count the 6-4 sophomore in with the Gamecocks' talented receiving corps. Moore made plays throughout the spring and showed a knack for making the difficult catch.
FS D.J. Swearinger -- Coaches raved about Swearinger's physical play at free safety. He seemed much more comfortable at safety, where he played in high school, than at corner, where he was forced to play as a freshman last season.
LB Shaq Wilson -- The undersized linebacker made a smooth transition from middle to outside and earned the most outstanding defensive player of spring award from coaches.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We keep thinking Stephen (Garcia) is going to really get better. And something happens to him and he performs pretty similarly, it seems like, all the time. But he's got all summer to see if he can really try to iron out some things. ... We're trying to work on his form." -- Steve Spurrier
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
SCOUTING THE OFFENSE: The Gamecocks have some big-time playmakers on offense, including sophomores wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Tori Gurley, sophomore running back Kenny Miles and incoming freshman running back Marcus Lattimore.
But those stars won't be utilized to their fullest if the offensive line doesn't gel. The Gamecocks O-line never got into a rhythm last season. It resulted in an SEC-worst 37 sacks and a porous running game. New offensive line coach Shawn Elliott hopes installing a zone-read running attack will help spark the Gamecocks' ground game, which in return will help alleviate some of the pressure of the quarterback.
SCOUTING THE DEFENSE: Led by a deep and talented secondary, the Gamecocks have big-time potential on defense.
However, they'll only reach that potential, if they can generate a pass rush. Defensive end Cliff Matthews is a force. But unless someone else steps up opposite of Matthews, he can expect plenty of double teams. Devin Taylor will likely start opposite Matthews, and has shown signs of greatness but will be asked to step up his consistency.
SCOUTING THE SPECIAL TEAMS: With the return of kicker/punter Spencer Lanning, the Gamecocks' kicking game should be in good shape. So a lot of the special teams focus in spring was improving kick offs. Special teams coach Shane Beamer is hoping transfer Joey Scribner-Howard is the answer.
The Gamecocks had only one touchback and allowed three kickoff returns for touchdowns. But Beamer believes Scribner-Howard has the leg strength to boot the ball deep into the end zone.
"Spencer Lanning used the word 'sick' to describe Joey's leg, and there's something to that. He's got a strong leg," Beamer told the State. "Again, it's just being consistent and kicking the ball with distance and hang time and all the things we're looking for."
RB Marcus Lattimore -- Considered the top running back prospect in the nation by most recruiting sites, Lattimore will fight for immediate playing time. He's a physical back with good speed and should be a good fit for the Gamecocks' running game, which now features more zone plays.
QB Connor Shaw -- A dual threat quarterback, the freshman looked good in early spring practice. Coach Steve Spurrier has been impressed by Shaw's mechanics and says two quarterbacks will be ready to play at all times this season.
OL A.J. Cann -- The top offensive lineman from Bamberg-Ehrhardt is one of a few linemen in South Carolina's class of six at the position, that could be called upon to step up and play. South Carolina specifically has a hole at the back-up center spot, a position Cann probably fits.
--Offensive lineman Rokevious Watkins missed most of spring practice with a shoulder stinger. He was in competition to be a starter, but will have to earn that spot in August practice.
--Running back Jarvis Giles suffered a hip flexor and was unable to play in the spring game.
--Defensive end Cliff Matthews sat out spring practice as a precaution while recovering from shoulder surgery.
Spring brought plenty of change
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