Five things we learned about the Gamecocks this spring

Special to The StateApril 13, 2014 

South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson

JEFF BLAKE — jblake@thestate.com

1. Dylan Thompson is the starting quarterback

There was little question the fifth-year senior would be anointed the starter with the departure of Connor Shaw, the all-time winningest signal-caller in school history. But the way Thompson performed this spring reinforces that notion. The former Boiling Springs standout has made the most of his limited repetitions this spring and has probably increased the gap between himself and whoever wins the No. 2 job among Connor Mitch, Brendan Nosovitch and Perry Orth. Thompson capped his spring by going 8-for-11 for 129 yards and a touchdown pass to woman’s basketball coach Dawn Staley in Saturday’s Garnet and Black game. He led the offense to touchdowns on all three of his series.

Thompson was named the Dr. Harris Pastides Outstanding Student-Athlete and will be the unquestioned leader of this team come the fall.

2. The offensive firepower will be as good as its been in Steve Spurrier’s 10 seasons

Mike Davis, Brandon Wilds, Shon Carson and heralded redshirt freshman David Williams form a backfield that can rival any across the country. Davis is coming off a 1,183-yard season with 11 touchdowns, despite battling nagging injuries in the latter stages of the season. Wilds is healthy and has proven to be a capable back on the SEC level. Carson came into the spring in the best shape of his career and has shown an explosiveness that he’s lacked the first two seasons. He did suffer a cracked shoulder blade in the spring game but should be healed by August. Williams missed time this spring with a hamstring injury, but the coaching staff is excited by what he brings to the table.

Bruce Ellington is the only departure from a receiving corps that should benefit from Thompson’s throw-first mentality. Shaq Roland, Pharoh Cooper Damiere Byrd and Nick Jones have solidified themselves as the top four receivers and have a ton of upside. If Rory Anderson returns from his triceps injury, and Jerell Adams continues his development, they could be lethal targets at tight end.

3. This will be the best offensive line under Spurrier

The Gamecocks return four starters on the offensive line, three of whom could be high NFL draft picks at the end of the season. A.J. Cann has made 38 career starts and was a team captain last season. He will again anchor the left guard position, with 6-foot-8, 348-pound Corey Robinson lining up next to him. Many believe Robinson has underachieved, but he is posed to have a breakout season as a senior. Brandon Shell has improved his pass blocking each of his two years as a starter and should see his stock improve this season. Those three players have a combined 83 starts among them.

The biggest surprise this spring has been the play of Mike Matulis, the junior who is coming off a redshirt season due to an injured shoulder. He has moved to guard and has seemed to have locked down the starting right guard position.

Cody Waldrop and Clayton Stadnik have a solid battle going for the starting center spot. Each played last season with them splitting the starts – Waldrop started six times and Stadnik seven. Whoever loses the battle for the starting spot will provide quality depth and could factor in at the right guard spot.

4. The linebacker corps will be strength of the defense

A season ago, the linebackers were a concern after graduating the top four from that spot. That left a young group that had to grow up quickly – and by the end of the season, they no longer were a liability. The group’s versatility has made defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward look at a 3-4 package called BOB. Kaiwan Lewis, Skai Moore, T.J. Holloman, Marcquis Roberts and Jonathan Walton are all almost interchangeable in the Mike and Will linebacker positions. Moore, Lewis and Roberts were three of the top five tacklers on the team last season.

Sharrod Golightly and Jordan Diggs are a formidable pair at the spur position. Larenz Bryant and Cedrick Cooper will have every opportunity to find the field when South Carolina employees a fourth linebacker spot.

5. At least one starting cornerback is not on campus

Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree have departed, and that has left a huge hole at cornerback. Ahmad Christian decided to transfer mid-season, and Ronnie Martin decided to leave at the end of the season. Ali Groves, Jamari Smith, Rico McWilliams and Sidney Rhodes were the only corners on the roster this spring, and Ward and defensive back coach Grady Brown hoped somebody would step up and grab a starting position.

McWilliams and Groves have missed time with injuries, and the others have struggled. That leaves the prospect that one or both of the starting corners are in high school.

Wesley Green, Al Harris Jr., Chris Lammons, D.J. Smith and Darin Smalls will be on the fast track when they arrive on campus this summer.

Starting safety Brison Williams has logged minutes at corner this spring, and he could be an option. He started the spring game at one of the corner spots alongside McWilliams.

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