South Carolina’s spring practice is concluding Saturday with the annual spring game. It’s been a session of veterans stepping into vacated roles, and of some newer players proving they just might have the chops to step over an established starter.
Five players who have made an impression in the spring:
1. MIKE MATULIS
Listed as a backup to Brandon Shell at right tackle before the spring, Matulis has slid into the starting position at right guard, formerly helmed by Ronald Patrick. While no position is set – it is spring, and offensive line coach Shawn Elliott lets it be known every day that nobody is assured a spot – Matulis has risen over a group of four that were listed at right guard. A 10-game starter who has had numerous shoulder problems since he enrolled, if Matulis can stay healthy, he can add another veteran presence to an already-deep line in the fall.
2. JERELL ADAMS
A prospect whose potential seems bound for the NFL is going to get his chance to step out of the shadow created by starter Rory Anderson. With Anderson out for the spring and perhaps the early season due to a torn tricep, Adams is being looked at as the starter. Quiet, hard-working but oh-so-talented, Adams’ path to massive production has been blocked by Anderson ahead of him in the past. It’s about to pay off.
3. DARIUS ENGLISH
Of course it won’t be easy to replace the mega-talented Jadeveon Clowney, but the sophomore from small-town Georgia has accepted that. One thing about it – he won’t be facing the constant spotlight that was shining on Clowney. English, blessed with a long-armed frame and the speed to flourish in Lorenzo Ward’s sack-happy scheme, has finally added the weight to go with his skills. If he keeps it on, he’ll be another elite pass-rusher to add to the rotation that has cycled through Columbia in recent years.
4. JAMARI SMITH
After flip-flopping from tailback to cornerback to tailback as a freshman, Smith is back at cornerback and making some plays. In the thinnest spot on the depth chart, Smith has done well, channeling Victor Hampton in number and skill. While there is quite a long way to go – Smith was mostly a special-teamer last year – he’s gotten the reps that the incoming freshmen haven’t. Smith has the speed for the position – he averaged 7.7 yards per rush last season, with one touchdown against Coastal Carolina – and if he can get the instincts down, he has a chance to stick.
5. SHON CARSON
Knowing that he’ll be battling starter Mike Davis and backup Brandon Wilds for time next season, Carson could have mailed in his spring practice. Instead, he showed up in better shape and a renewed vigor to get on the field and produce, and has. While his scrimmage stats aren’t gaudy, the undersized scooter scored two touchdowns in the last session, twisting through the mammoths of the defensive line to find paydirt. Carson is a good weapon to have if the Gamecocks can find room to get him the ball – he can catch the ball from the backfield if he can get far enough off the secondary. With Davis not going to play much Saturday and David Williams nursing a sore hamstring, perhaps Carson really breaks out in front of the spring-game crowd.