MYRTLE BEACH — Everette Sands has his work cut out for him trying to find a full-time starter in the coming months.
But that doesn’t mean the South Carolina running backs coach doesn’t have some pieces to work with.
Sands, in town for a coaching function, spoke at the Horry County Gamecock Club’s winter meeting Thursday at Angelo’s Steak and Pasta. Just before the event kicked off, however, he made known his hopes for spring ball and fall camp.
“I want a dedicated starter,” Sands said. “Now at the same time, I don’t want that guy to get 90-95 percent of the reps. In my mind, the starter’s gonna get 60-65 percent of the reps, and the second guy’s gonna get 25-30, and then a third guy. But I want someone to separate himself from everybody else and say ‘I’m the guy.’ ”
Who will pull away from the pack, though, is up in the air.
Mike Davis, Sands said, has a slight lead heading into March practice. The rising sophomore finished third among running backs last year while rushing for 275 yards and a pair of scores.
Brandon Wilds is probably next despite missing 2012 with an ankle injury. Prior to that, he recorded three 100-yards games as a freshman.
There’s also Shon Carson, the two-sport athlete who will miss most of spring drills while he plays baseball for USC. And then there’s Kendric Salley. The redshirt freshman from Williston-Elko has fully recovered from a partially torn ACL and also should be in the mix.
“It’s going to be a good fight,” Sands said. “Right now, I’m not sure who the guy is going to be. They have to get out there and battle for it. Both of them already have a lot of experience, and they’re battle-tested. Now we just who have to see who wants the job.”
Sands, who will be entering his second season with the Gamecocks, isn’t ready to count out the two players USC signed earlier this month.
Coach Steve Spurrier said during his Feb. 6 news conference that Philadelphia native David Williams had a strong possibility of immediate playing time. Sands went one step further Thursday, saying the coaching staff knows better than to discount first-year players.
Jamari Smith (Neptune Beach, Fla.) has the size (6-foot, 200 pounds) that the staff likes, and he has yet to get cracking in a college weight room.
“They’re going to have opportunities in camp,” he said. “If we feel they can help us, we’re going to give them a chance. I’m not 100 percent sure. There’s a learning curve there. There’s a speed change from high school to college. But again, Marcus came in and — he didn’t start the first game — but he started early. We’re going to let those guys come in and see what they can do.”
Carson a changed player
Sands was visibly excited Thursday talking about Carson.
Multiple injuries have limited the Lake City native to three carries in his first two years on campus. But like Salley, Carson is no longer showing the effects of his surgically repaired ACL.
“The Shon Carson I saw during bowl practice and the Shon Carson I saw during preseason camp were two different people,” Sands said. “The one during bowl practice was a lot more confident with his legs and bouncing around a little bit. You could see why he was the No. 2 guy (in the state coming out of high school) before he got hurt.”
Carson has appeared in two baseball games for coach Chad Holbrook, and most believe his playing time on the diamond will increase.
The downside is that it leaves him little time for football in March and April. Sands said he’s not positive how much Carson will be practicing with the football team, but he doesn’t expect it to be much.
More motivation from Marcus?
As if being the guy to follow Marcus Lattimore wasn’t tough enough, the returning running backs are now finding out the outgoing star is recovering as an expedited pace.
Lattimore suffered multiple ligament tears Oct. 27 in a game against Tennessee. Within weeks, he announced he was leaving for the NFL.
Then, earlier this week, famed surgeon Dr. James Andrews told the USA Today that Lattimore was ahead of schedule. Sands said that shouldn’t shock anybody.
“If anybody would be, it would be Marcus,” Sands said. “The biggest thing is they want to make sure he doesn’t go too fast.”
Just the same, Lattimore’s rehabilitation hasn’t made watching replays of the injury, which showed his right leg at a gruesome angle, any easier.
“The toughest thing is when we’re watching cut-ups, you get to that play and you kind of want to fast-forward through it,” Sands said.