Join us here at GoGamecocks.com for live practice updates Friday night, starting around 7 p.m.
South Carolinas football players have 23 days before they have to worry about going to class, and that means a lot of football between now and then.
The Gamecocks have 23 practices scheduled for that time, beginning Friday at 7:30 p.m. at The Proving Grounds practice facility. The season-opener is Aug. 30 against Vanderbilt in Nashville, Tenn., but theres a lot to learn between now and then. Here are the top five story lines to watch during camp, although its really one big story line and four subplots:
MARCUS, MARCUS, MARCUS
Junior running back Marcus Lattimore will be back on the field for the first time since tearing his ACL on Oct.15.
The reports from coaches and teammates are all good, but Gamecock fans wont feel 100 percent at ease until they see the 2010 national freshman of the year with their own eyes. (Which they can do at this weeks practices, which are open to the public.)
Lattimore has been cleared for full contact work, coach Steve Spurrier said, but its doubtful the Gamecocks will put him in harms way much this month.
Theres no reason Lattimores knee shouldnt be 100 percent structurally sound. That will give him almost a month to make the mental recovery that most knee rehab patients say is the final phase.
Itll also give him a month to answer hundreds of questions about how his knee feels, so get ready for plenty of updates.
STEVE SPURRIERS MOOD
The Gamecocks eighth-year coach is entering a big year. He will join the exclusive 200-win club with three more victories, and he could become South Carolinas all-time winingest coach before the season is complete.
Longtime Spurrier observers around the league noticed a pep in the veteran coachs step at last months SEC Media Days, where Spurrier acknowledged his team had a chance for a special season. However, Spurrier has been quick to follow all those optimistic comments by saying things could go in the other direction, too. Then Tuesday, Spurrier told SportsTalk Radio that he planned to raise his voice some at Fridays first practice because he thinks some of his players might be resting on their preseason hype.
Expect to hear a lot of poor-mouthing from Spurrier in the next three weeks.
LORENZO WARD TAKES THE REINS
The first-year defensive coordinator is not brand new to this anymore. He was in charge during the 30-13 win against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl and led the defense in spring practice, but this is the season he will really make his mark.
Ward has said his defense will be fundamentally the same as former coordinator Ellis Johnsons but will employ more pressure on the quarterback.
Coach Ward is a younger coach. He wants us to have fun, safety D.J. Swearinger said.
Wards plan to blitz more will mean more pressure on a new-look secondary, and if the defensive backs dont respond to that in the preseason, he might have to change his plan.
THE RIGHT TACKLE WATCH
First, there is the matter of Mike Matulis health. The sophomore was listed as the starter at the position coming out of spring practice despite missing all of the spring with a shoulder injury. He will be ready for full speed action starting today, offensive line coach Shawn Elliott said, but he will have to deal with competition from Cody Gibson. Matulis started five games last year, including the final four, and Gibson started four.
WIDE RECEIVER WATCH
Alshon Jeffery is gone, but Ace Sanders continues to make a good impression. Shaq Roland, one of last years most talked about recruits, is coming in, but, from the looks of things this summer, could be overshadowed by fellow incoming freshman Kwinton Smith.
Upperclassmen D.L. Moore and DeAngelo Smith are listed as starters but need to prove something quickly to hold onto those jobs after combining for 11 catches last season.
Taking everything into account, it will be the teams most interesting position grouping in the preseason.