South Carolina Football: Position-by-Position Spring Practice Preview
With the exception of cornerback, right guard and some spots on the defensive line, there aren't a lot of position battles to be won as South Carolina begins spring practice.
The Gamecocks have more depth at most positions than at any time during coach Steve Spurrier's nine previous seasons.
One interesting storyline is how long the Gamecocks' practices will remain open to both the public and the media.
The Gamecocks have started out with good intentions along these lines in the past, only to close practice after someone crosses the line with a social media posting that Spurrier deems inappropriate.
Unofficial oddsmakers set the over-under at five practices before Spurrier shuts it down.
It speaks volumes about South Carolina's numbers at cornerback that redshirt freshman Ali Groves is penciled in as a starter as spring practice begins.
Not only that, but Groves will be limited in the spring while recovering from shoulder surgery. Jamari Smith, recently converted from tailback, is listed as his backup.
Sophomore Rico McWilliams is South Carolina's most experienced corner and has the edge as the other starting corner.
The real battle at the cornerback spot won't happen until the fall when four talented signees arrive to do battle.
At safety, the Gamecocks are set, with both starters and backups returning.
Best case scenario? The Gamecocks emerge from spring practice with one SEC-caliber cornerback ready to go.
The Gamecocks must replace both starting defensive ends, including All-American Jadeveon Clowney, as well as All-American defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles.
Unlike at cornerback, South Carolina has as abundance of quality players returning on the line, and that should ensure spirited and meaningful competition in the spring.
The most intriguing prospect at tackle is incoming junior college transfer Abu Lamin, who will compete with returning players Phillip Dukes and Kelsey Griffin at one of the tackle spots.
J.T. Surratt is the returning starter at the other defensive tackle spot, but will be challenged by Gerald Dixon Jr. and Deon Green.
At end, Darius English and Gerald Dixon, half-brother of Gerald Dixon Jr., begin the spring as the starters.
Cedric Cooper, converted from linebacker to defensive end, will be a key player to watch.
This time last year, linebacker was the Gamecocks' most critical need area.
This year, the Gamecocks enter spring practice basically looking for steady improvement after Kaiwan Lewis, Skai Moore and Sharrod Golightly emerged as capable starters.
However, Golightly could face a challenge from talented sophomore Larenz Bryant.
A solid spring should cement this group as the strength of next season's defense.
South Carolina's offensive line is all but set for next season, with the exception of determining a starter at right guard.
The Gamecocks are hopeful redshirt freshman Na'Ty Rodgers is ready to step into the starting role, but they will begin the spring also looking at Cody Waldrop, last year's starting center, as a possibility.
Either way, this shapes up as the most talented and deepest offensive line South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier has had at South Carolina.
There shouldn't be much drama involving the running backs at South Carolina during the spring.
The Gamecocks return their top four tailbacks, led by leading rusher Mike Davis. Brandon Wilds is reasonably well established as Davis' top backup.
Perhaps David Williams can challenge Shon Carson for the No. 3 spot.
At fullback, a blocking position in the Gamecocks offense, Connor McLaurin is firmly entrenched as the starter.
Senior Dylan Thompson has a hammer lock on the starting job at quarterback entering spring practice.
Sophomore Brendan Nosovitch and redshirt freshman Connor Mitch should compete for the backup spot in a battle that should carry over to fall practice.
The battle for the backup spot should be interesting, given head coach Steve Spurrier's penchant over the years for benching his starter when things aren't going well.
In fact, don't be surprised if all three play at some point next season.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends
Bruce Ellington, who left early for the NFL draft, is South Carolina's only significant loss at wide receiver, and it's expected that sophomore Pharoh Cooper will step in without a hitch at that position.
Even though Cooper had a promising freshman season, improving dramatically as the season progressed, he needs to put in the necessary work to have what is anticipated to be a breakout season.
Elsewhere at wide receiver, Shaq Roland and Damiere Byrd appear to have a solid hold on the starting positions.
The same holds true at tight end where Jerell Adams and Rory Anderson both return.
Elliott Fry came in as a freshman to establish himself as a successful kicker on extra points and field goals.
Continued consistency, and perhaps a little more strength and bulk, is all the Gamecocks will look for out of Fry in the spring.
The same cannot be said of returning punter Tyler Hull, who has been average at best.
Hull needs to improve and will likely have to fend off a challenge from a walk on or two in the fall.