South Carolina Football: What to Watch for in Gamecocks' 2014 Spring Game

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South Carolina Football: What to Watch for in Gamecocks' 2014 Spring Game
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South Carolina QB Dylan Thompson

South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier has led the Gamecocks to three straight 11-win seasons—the first three 11-win seasons in program history.

What does he have to show for it?

Zero SEC East titles over that same stretch, with his last coming in 2010 when the Gamecocks were 9-5 and 5-3 in conference.

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South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier

They've missed out on a trip to the Georgia Dome in early December during the most prosperous time in program history, but that could change this season thanks to running back Mike Davis, a potentially potent offense and an underrated defense that could surprise the pundits.

South Carolina will hold its annual spring game at noon on Saturday, and in it, we'll get a glimpse of what the 2014 Gamecocks will look like.

What you need to watch out for on Saturday:

 

Just How Good is Dylan Thompson?

Dylan Thompson has proven throughout his career that he's a viable backup and reliable fill-in as the South Carolina starting quarterback when injuries forced former starter Connor Shaw out.

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South Carolina QB Dylan Thompson

But just how good is he as "the man?"

The last time we saw Thompson in extended playing time, he was woefully inconsistent on the road at Missouri and was bailed out by Shaw, who came off the bench with an injured knee.

He needs a little bit more attention than other unquestioned starters in the SEC, and he got that attention during Saturday's scrimmage.

"All the quarterbacks did some good things here and there," head coach Steve Spurrier said in a release from South Carolina. "Dylan Thompson is coming around. Dylan hasn't played as much as sometimes we think he has. So he got a little extra (work) in today."

With Davis to rely on behind him, Thompson doesn't have to be a superstar. But he does have to make smart decisions, deliver the ball on time and on target and keep opposing defenses honest by stretching the field.

If he shows that he can do all of those things consistently, then the Gamecocks' offense will be fine, and it could resemble those that Spurrier was successful with at Florida in the 1990s. 

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South Carolina QB Dylan Thompson

 

Who Will Step Up in the Trenches?

South Carolina lost three starters off of last season's defensive line, including star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, fellow defensive end Chaz Sutton and defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles. That leaves the door wide open for unknown players to step forward.

RAINIER EHRHARDT
South Carolina DT J.T. Surratt

Defensive tackle J.T. Surratt is the lone returning starter of the bunch. Around him, defensive ends Gerald Dixon, Darius English and Cedrick Cooper will battle a host of Gamecocks for playing time; and Gerald Dixon Jr., Deon Green, Phillip Dukes and Abu Lamin are just a few of several players hoping to create depth in the new-look defensive line.

It's been a battle all month, and Green is one player who has been making strides.

"He's done a great job the past couple of practices," defensive line coach Deke Adams said last week in quotes from South Carolina. "He's really developing, doing what we ask him to do. You can tell he's healthy. He's done a good job. But right now it's a battle in there. Nobody's just really stood out and said 'hey, it's my job.' They're all fighting."

Great teams don't just have superstars up front on defense—they have depth. This spring has been all about building that depth for defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward. If that depth shows up on Saturday inside Williams-Brice Stadium, it will go a long way towards solidifying the defense for a 2014 title run.

 

Deep Threats

While Bruce Ellington was busy getting ready for the NFL draft, his former teammates at South Carolina have been busy trying to figure out who's going to replace him as the top receiver in Columbia.

Who's going to step up?

Shaq Roland is a likely candidate. The 6'1", 185-pound junior came on strong down the stretch last season, gaining 224 yards and scoring two touchdowns over the final three games of the season, including 112 receiving yards in the Capital One Bowl win over Wisconsin.

Damiere Byrd has been rehabbing from a knee injury that kept him out of the bowl game, which has left the door open for Nick Jones, Pharoh Cooper, K.J. Brent and others to step up and impress the coaching staff this spring.

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Secondary Struggles

One of the bigger holes in South Carolina's defense is at cornerback, where Victor Hampton jumped early, and the quest to fill it is apparently taking more time than Ward first envisioned. He expressed some frustration on the progress of the South Carolina defensive backs following Saturday's scrimmage.

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South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward

"I think we're getting a lot better at safety," Ward said in South Carolina's post-practice quotes. "We've still got a ways to go at corner. We haven't progressed as well as I would have liked in the secondary."

Sophomores Rico McWilliams and Jamari Smith, and senior Sidney Rhodes are all vying for playing time, with redshirt freshman Ali Groves—a projected starter according to South Carolina's pre-spring depth chart—still recovering from shoulder surgery.

There's a remarkable lack of depth at corner for the Gamecocks. Whoever steps up in the spring game will likely have the inside track at starting once toe meets leather this fall.

 

* Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. 

 


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