S Carolina opens practice with high expectations
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina opened its first practice of fall camp Friday with a lot of expectations, but not a lot of superstars.
It was a typical first practice for coach Steve Spurrier. He had something to complain about as both his centers bounced simple shotgun snaps to the quarterbacks. He also praised backup quarterback Connor Mitch, saying he must have practiced hard over the summer and listened to starter Dylan Thompson. And Spurrier had his typical first practice all-around assessment.
“Defense looked fast. They were flying around. Nobody got hurt, so it’s a good practice when that happens,” Spurrier said.
This is an unusual season for South Carolina. The Gamecocks are coming off an 11-2 finish, continuing an unprecedented stretch of four seasons of winning 11 games.
That consistency helped make South Carolina the pick to win its division in the Southeastern Conference, despite losing starters like NFL No. 1 pick Jadeveon Clowney and quarterback Connor Shaw. Shaw and Clowney jerseys dominated the crowd of several hundred watching the practice, while jerseys for this year’s players couldn’t be found.
The player most likely to have an award-wining season, running back Mike Davis, sat out of practice with a pulled hamstring. Davis, who ran for 1,183 yards last season, hopes to be back to practice next week, Spurrier said.
“There’s nothing we can do about it. He’s getting treatment. He says he’ll be ready next week,” Spurrier said. “We’ll see. Those hamstrings — you never know how bad a guy pulls one.”
Spurrier’s offense is mostly settled. Davis and Thompson will start. The top three receivers are in place, and outside of the centers, the offensive line may be the best unit on the team. The team knows each other well. Overall, South Carolina lost just five seniors and four juniors who left early for the NFL.
The defense has more questions. Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward has to replace Clowney and two of his teammates off his dominating defensive line. The Gamecocks are even less experienced in the secondary. Just four cornerbacks returns, and none of them have more than two starts.
Ward has already said the secondary will have to depend on players who have never played a down in college. But he is far from worried.
“I just think there is something special about them, They’re about business. There are no big name players on this team. They’re like family,” Ward said.
The lack of a star like Clowney that gets all the attention and the expectation of a drop in performance has bonded guys, some of whom are just meeting each other as they became academically eligible, said defensive back Brison Williams.
“We don’t have Jadeveon and all those other guys,” Williams said. “I think the whole defense is trying to play around each other and earn their chemistry together.”