South Carolina running backs coach Everette Sands has three SEC-caliber, experienced running backs returning in 2014 and another whot has yet to play but could become a household name sooner rather than later.
Mike Davis, Brandon Wilds and Shon Carson are the veterans, with redshirt freshman David Williams being the unknown commodity. Sands will have to find a way to keep all four happy once the season begins, but coming out of spring practice, he was excited for what the future holds.
“I’ll have four guys that I think can play in the SEC anywhere,” Sands said. “We have to see how it’s all going to work out when the time comes as far as sharing carries. But I’m excited to see how it will work itself out.”
The rotation will start with Davis. The 5-foot-9, 216-pound junior is coming off a season in which he rushed for 1,183 yards, scored 11 touchdowns and caught 32 passes for 352 yards. That was enough to earn second-team All-SEC honors despite the fact he was limited down the stretch with several nagging injuries.
Davis had what he called a “relaxing” spring during which he worked on his mental approach. He seldom saw much playing time in scrimmages, but that didn’t stop him from getting a better grasp on what many expect to be an explosive offense this fall.
“In practice, Mike was really sharp. He’s gotten a lot smarter,” senior quarterback Dylan Thompson said. “I’m really proud of him for the work he’s put in.”
The other main focus for Davis this spring was ball security. He lost a couple of key fumbles last season and he is reminded of that fact frequently by coach Steve Spurrier.
“He never lets that go,” Davis said of Spurrier when asked about the fumbling issue.
Wilds has been the primary backup and has rushed for nearly 1,000 yards in his career. He came on strong as a freshman when Marcus Lattimore went down with a season-ending injury. He had three 100-yard games in his five starts after Lattimore went down. He had to redshirt in 2012 with an ankle injury but came back last season to play in seven games. He missed six games after suffering a dislocated elbow against Central Florida and never seemed to find his stride.
Carson fought the injury bug his first two seasons but finally became a solid contributor last season. He rushed for 256 yards on 61 carries. He showed an explosiveness this spring that Sands hadn’t seen before, but the injury bug struck again in the spring game. Carson suffered a cracked shoulder blade but is expected to be ready in time for fall camp.
Sands liked what the top three guys did this spring despite the limited reps.
“My top three guys are older guys, so they’re working on the little details of their assignments now,” Sands said. “I think, for the most part, they’ve been pretty good detailed oriented just trying to get better.”
Williams was supposed to get the bulk of the live action this spring but suffered a hamstring injury that kept him out about two weeks. That gave transfers Rod Talley and Darius Paulk a lot of action they weren’t expecting.
But Williams returned for the spring game and showed why the coaches are excited about his future. He scored two touchdowns and showed shifty footwork. He finished with 35 yards on seven carries but still felt the effects of his hamstring issue.
“I didn’t know what to expect,” Williams said. “I was thinking about my hamstring the whole time before it started, but it felt good to get out there.”
Sands believes the injury setback will be a minor one for Williams, even though he didn’t get the reps Sands wanted.
“We planned on him getting a lot of reps,” Sands said. “So, he has to take advantage of what he was able to do and work this summer and be ready when we get back in the fall.”
The end result is, if all four backs stay healthy, the Gamecocks will have a hard time spreading the wealth evenly.
“Mike’s ready to have a big year. Brandon Wilds is ready. Shon should be back and David Williams had some nice runs,” Spurrier said after the spring game. “We should be OK at running back.”