The South Carolina Gamecocks have completed the spring practice season and addressed many of their early offseason concerns, though head coach Steve Spurrier still has some to figure out.
The Gamecocks entered the spring with questions at multiple positions including running back, wide receiver, linebacker and the secondary.
The recent emergence and strong spring performance from running back Mike Davis and wide receiver Shaq Roland have filled some position gaps.
Now, Spurrier needs to focus on South Carolina’s remaining concerns in order to have the team in form for the fall and ready to compete for a BCS National Championship.
Here are the five biggest concerns that remain for Coach Spurrier at the end of the spring practice season.
The first-team offensive linemen played very well in the spring game despite matching up with backup defensive linemen.
South Carolina’s offensive linemen held their ground in both run blocking and pass protection, yet the backups did not look as solid.
With the wear and tear of the college football season, injuries can play a major role a team’s success, especially along the offensive line. One hole in the line can present major issues for both running and passing the football.
The Gamecocks have high goals for this season and will need every backup offensive lineman to be ready to enter the game and play at an extremely high level.
Redshirt sophomore Will Sport will have a major role in addressing this concern if it comes up. Sport can play both guard and center, which provides Spurrier with a versatile lineman who can step in at multiple positions.
Junior Mike Matulis is in a similar position to Sport since he can play on either side as an offensive tackle. Matulis is recovering from shoulder surgery, which is a concern in itself, but he is an improving lineman who will be needed if a starting tackle cannot play.
Throughout the spring and specifically in the spring game, the backup linemen were slow out of their stances and lacked the aggressive pop to initiate blocks.Spurrier and his offensive line coach Shawn Elliott need to teach assertiveness and have these linemen ready to jump into the game as they are needed.
Depth and having strong linemen who can fill in for injured players without the offense missing a beat is key for a championship-caliber team. The Gamecocks will need all they can get out of the backup linemen.
South Carolina has an incredible talent pool going into the 2013 season.
Many of these players have huge potential and can make game changing plays in the blink of an eye.
Though South Carolina will have some inexperienced players in key roles, which always draws a little concern no matter how talented a player is.
Sophomore wide receiver Shaq Roland is emerging as a top passing target, but he only recorded five catches last season. He has the talent, but his inexperience could become a factor in a big game.
Sophomore running back Mike Davis is a workhorse type of back. His spring has been one of the most impressive performances on the team, but much like Roland he will have high expectations. Davis must protect the ball and continue to run wisely.
The linebackers will consist of all inexperienced players who will need to step up as leaders in the fall both on and off the field. In addition to the linebackers, the secondary may include younger players who lack big-game experience.
Coach Spurrier has the challenge of simulating pressure situations and preparing his young players for big moments that the Gamecocks will definitely be a part of this season.
The talent is entirely there. The great coaching staff is there.
Players will have to step up when needed and build their experience.
The Gamecocks entered the spring with major questions regarding who would fill the middle linebacker spots and while progress has been made, they still have to determine the starters.
Redshirt sophomore Cedrick Cooper is still recovering from ACL surgery. He could return for August practices, but the question remains whether he will be ready to start at the beginning of the season.
Lewis will probably get the starting nod at the Mike, and Holloman will be his backup and get significant playing time. If Cooper is unable to perform, then Holloman or sophomore Marcquis Roberts may have to step in.
Kelvin Rainey is still raw after making the switch to linebacker at the start of the spring season to provide depth.
Linebacker is still a very fluid position for South Carolina as a lot hinges on the recovery and readiness of Cooper.
All of these linebackers are fairly inexperienced and are relied upon to become vocal leaders of the defense.
Coach Spurrier still has time, but he will need to finalize his middle linebackers to allow his defense to establish camaraderie and chemistry.
Continuing with the trend of linebacker concerns, Spurrier still has to pick a starter for “Spur” linebacker.
The spur is a tough position to fill after the loss of Devonte Holloman.
Now, the Gamecocks will have to turn to a smaller, more inexperienced player to fit into the spur.
Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward told Darryl Slater of The Post and Courier, “It’s real close. They both have done a lot of good things. I think Sharrod has probably made more plays this spring.”
Golightly was mainly a special teams player last year, while Diggs missed most of the year with a calf strain.
The talent and athletic abilities are there for both players, but neither has truly emerged as the best option to play the position.
According to Darryl Slater of The Post and Courier, “The position is far from settled, and Botkin emphasized that he expects to rotate his linebackers this fall.”
The Spur linebacker is an important aspect of South Carolina’s 4-2-5 defense, and clarity at the position is big for putting together a cohesive defense that can backup Clowney and help the team compete for a national title.
Injuries are always a concern and right now, the Gamecocks have some impact players battling and recovering from injuries.
Senior Connor Shaw, last year’s starting quarterback and probable starter this year, is still out with a foot injury. Though, he should be ready some time this summer.
Shaw is a very efficient quarterback who can also run the football, so having him back is very important even though the Gamecocks have a great backup quarterback in Dylan Thompson.
South Carolina will also need Cedrick Cooper back from injury to help out the thin group of linebackers.
Jadeveon Clowney is also recovering from a mild concussion and neck injury, though he will not miss any significant time.
These players should be ready for the season, but injuries are always one of the biggest concerns on a football team, especially one that will be in the hunt for a national title.
A healthy South Carolina team could be one of the best teams in the country and having all of these players at 100 percent is very important for Spurrier’s Gamecocks.