South Carolina Football: 4 Things We Learned About Gamecocks This Spring
With the South Carolina Gamecocks' spring football season in the books, it's time to reflect on what we learned about this team.
Spring ball is about answering team questions and finding players who elevate their level of play to move up the depth charts.
We all knew Mike Davis, the offensive line and the linebackers would be excellent, but we still learned a good amount about the rest of the offense and defense.
The Gamecocks need to replace Connor Shaw and key parts of the defensive line and made a lot of progress this spring toward those goals.
Here are the four things we learned about the South Carolina Gamecocks this spring.
Dylan Thompson Is Still Really Far Ahead of the Other Quarterbacks
The task of replacing the winningest quarterback in school history is not an easy one. However, Dylan Thompson is doing a great job so far.
He is making all of the right moves as he takes his game to the next level and prepares to lead South Carolina this fall.
He is adding new dimensions to the offense with his strong arm, more traditional play-action style and decision-making.
He showed poise in the pocket and the ability to work his receivers into open space.
Skepticism toward his ability to lead the Gamecocks still exists, but Thompson did enough to suppress it for now. Despite a huge spring from quarterback of the future Connor Mitch, Thompson really solidified his spot as the starter and leader of the offense.
He has great skill players around him and one of the most elite offensive lines in the country. Those combinations along with his potential will carry the Gamecocks a long way this fall.
He is the man at the helm of the offense, and while Mitch may improve a lot, I don't expect him to overtake the starting job.
Thompson is that much better than the rest of the quarterbacks on the roster.
The Wide Receiver Depth Is Incredible
Bruce Ellington decided to leave South Carolina early, opening a gap at one of the starting slots for wide receiver. Possibly, he recognized the depth, saw the opportunity to get drafted and knew South Carolina would be in good hands.
The Gamecocks have so many potential starting receivers that this passing game can be unpredictable. Thompson and the offense possess the ability to get the ball in any receiver's hands because the talent pool is so deep.
Shaq Roland seems to be the No. 1 option who will lead the way. This is his time to bring his game to a new level after not quite reaching his potential early in his collegiate career.
After Roland, Pharoh Cooper brings a deadly element of speed and versatility, especially in the slot.
K.J. Brent, Damiere Byrd, Shamier Jeffery, Nick Jones, Kane Whitehurst and the new up-and-comer from the spring, Carlton Heard, create matchup issues and provide consistency. All of these players provide different aspects to the passing game and can be used at any time.
The receivers are really good and at Thompson's disposal. Now it's time for the Gamecocks to utilize the talent in the passing game.
The Defensive Line Is Still a Work in Progress
The progress made on the defensive line this spring has been astounding. At the end of the 2013 season, the Gamecocks' defensive linemen, especially the ends, were undersized and looked lost on the field at times. Throughout the spring, players have bulked up with strength training and gained a competitive edge to have an impact on the field rather than being pushed around.
Replacing Jadeveon Clowney, Kelcy Quarles and Chaz Sutton is not an easy task. Yet South Carolina did a good job this spring with making quick progress on the edges and teaching the young interior linemen how to push the inside.
Darius English and Mason Harris have become a lot stronger compared to the thin frames they had when they started this spring season. Now with some size, South Carolina can focus on the techniques and pass rushing off the edge as well as the burst to clog up the middle in the run game.
Similar to wide receiver, the defensive line has a lot of depth. And the Gamecocks will need to use it in a rotational style.
Despite the progress, players still need to get bigger and refine the techniques in the pass rush.
The Answer at Cornerback Needs to Come This Fall
The one area that is holding South Carolina back as it heads toward the 2014 season is cornerback. We all knew it would be a major concern, and it continues to be one.
Entering the spring with Rico McWilliams as the only scholarship cornerback on the team meant the Gamecocks needed to make some quick shifts to address the needs at the position.
Shifting Brison Williams over from safety made a lot of sense as he has a lot of experience and adaptability for the game. He thrived in the shift and may see some time at cornerback this fall since there is depth at safety.
Even with the success of Williams, South Carolina is in some trouble with its cornerbacks. And the Gamecocks are throwing all of their eggs in one basket. Or should I say, three freshmen?
Chris Lammons, Wesley Green and D.J. Smith will provide some much-needed depth at cornerback, but they will also be expected to earn starting spots. Asking for freshmen to start at such a demanding position is not an ideal situation to be in, though these recruits are very talented.
For the sake of the defense, South Carolina desperately needs one of the three to rise to starting status, and the other two will have to play consistent rotational substitute roles. And all of this needs to happen in the blink of an eye.
South Carolina is in need of an answer. And it should come this fall in the form of three talented freshmen corners.