South Carolina Football: 5 Players with Most to Gain in Spring Practices
South Carolina is in position to have a solid 2014 season, but it all starts now. Gamecocks, it's time for some spring practice.
Now that the 2013 season is over and the young players have a season of experience under their belts, South Carolina can push forward in the offseason development of its players.
The Gamecocks are far from short of talent, but they will need some big performances from some of their players.
Last spring, we witnessed the emergence of Mike Davis, arguably the team's best player going into the 2014 season. Who will be this year's Mike Davis?
Even though many players are locked into starting spots, there is a lot of work to be done and many players still have a lot to gain. The sky is the limit, but these guys can make their cases this spring.
Here are the five players with the most to gain in spring practices for the Gamecocks.
With Connor Shaw's departure, the keys to South Carolina's offense are in the very capable hands of Dylan Thompson.
Thompson already has a great deal of experience from job sharing with Shaw and filling in whenever Shaw suffered an injury. But, now it's Thompson's time to shine, and no one is there to compete with him (unless some bizarre circumstances occur).
He has a great arm, above-average accuracy and the respect of his teammates—but for Thompson that's not enough...yet.
This spring is all about Thompson showing that he can be "the guy." He's not on an island running the offense alone, but Thompson brings a different style of play to South Carolina, and he has the most to gain from it. The pro-style offense is at Thompson's disposal, and he needs to take charge of it and prove to his teammates that he is the capable, proven winner that Shaw was to this squad.
I'm not asking Thompson to be Shaw. That's a pretty lofty expectation.
But I am expecting Thompson to show he is the sole leader of the offense. He has the experience and talent, and he can gain a lot with a strong spring performance by showing his teammates how good he can be—by running the offense with character and leadership.
Larenz Bryant has undeniable talent and athleticism.
With one year gone in his collegiate career, it's time for Bryant to show that he has made the adjustments needed to have an impact in the college game.
Coming in as a 4-star recruit, Bryant was expected to have a fairly quick impact on defense. The emergence of Skai Moore and the depth at the position mean Bryant needs to work that much harder to get his talents onto the field.
As athletically gifted as Bryant is, he should be earning some playing time.
He now has to compete with the already deep group of linebackers, in addition to incoming freshman Bryson Allen-Williams. Allen-Williams will probably wind up as a redshirt because of the depth of the position, but Bryant still has another extremely talented player to compete with for some playing time.
The skills are there. The talent is there. Now, Bryant needs to piece them together into a strong campaign in the 2014 spring practice season.
Darius English has some big shoes to fill with Jadeveon Clowney moving on to the NFL.
I'm not saying English will fill those shoes. He just needs to fill the position and show consistent play.
English has a really long frame, and one of the biggest things he needs to do this offseason is fill it in. He's probably around 240 pounds at this point, but he needs to continue to do strength training in order to get his weight up, or else English is in for a rough season. The SEC is not built for scrawny defensive ends to play on a regular basis.
English cannot be the situation-based substitute anymore. It's his time to step up.
South Carolina's defensive line should be pretty good—despite losing some excellent players—though, English will need to prove he can be a consistent option on the edge in the pass rush.
English doesn't have a huge body of work yet, so this spring is about him getting stronger and proving he can be the defensive go-to edge pass-rusher.
To say that South Carolina needs help at cornerback might be an understatement. Though, I have confidence that the Gamecocks secondary will be good enough in 2014.
With the losses of Victor Hampton, Jimmy Legree and Ahmad Christian, the Gamecocks have a lot of spots to fill and Rico McWilliams is one of the few remaining players with experience. South Carolina will rely on its trio of freshman recruits, consisting of D.J. Smith, Chris Lammons and Wesley Green. But relying on all freshman cornerbacks is not an ideal situation no matter how talented they are.
McWilliams will be the closest to a seasoned veteran at the position and pretty much the only one with any level of experience at the college level.
McWilliams is not the most talented defender, but a spring performance that shows a refined technique and high motor will motivate the younger players at the position.
Also, McWilliams doesn't necessarily have a solidified spot.
Through showing he can lead the younger cornerbacks and setting the bar high, McWilliams can make both himself and his teammates better. It's a lofty task, but it just means McWilliams has a lot to gain this spring.
He came in with a lot of hype, but Shaq Roland's first two seasons have been a bit quieter than some would have hoped.
The likes of Ace Sanders and Alshon Jeffery are tough expectations to live up to, but Roland is the guy who can hit that level of play.
With a great body and strong route-running skills, it's time for Roland to prove that he is a playmaker and the go-to target for Dylan Thompson.
The Gamecocks are deep at wide receiver, though no one is as talented as Roland—who should have a lot of motivation. A huge spring performance can turn him into the biggest offensive weapon in the passing the game. Quite frankly, Roland should be that type of player.
He's quick and needs to show that he can play with consistency. Roland's play has been good, but he needs to elevate that talent into star-caliber play. That's what this spring is all about for Roland.