After testing his rehabilitated knee in several scrimmages, USC junior tailback Marcus Lattimore wants to tell the college football world one thing.
“I feel great,” he said after Monday night’s practice. “I’ve just got to keep building my confidence every day. Practice is going to help that, and especially the first game is going to help. I’m looking forward to it.”
The biggest hurdle for Lattimore, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in USC’s seventh game last season, involved the mental one. He believes that he has cleared it after getting 10 carries for 45 yards in three scrimmages.
“I’m not thinking about it anymore. That was the main thing,” he said. “I’m just not thinking about the injury. I’m just going out there trying to be myself, as I did in the past.”
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Being himself has led to 2,015 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns in 20 career games. He has faith that he has done everything possible to get ready for this season.
“I remember how hard I worked for those nine months and know that I’m strong enough to be able to take a hit and be able to make that cut,” he said.
The real test comes one week from Thursday, when the No. 9 Gamecocks travel to Nashville to play SEC foe Vanderbilt. He’s not sure what he might do that night, but he envisions a big night for the ground attack.
“That’s our goal – to play the best we can on August 30th and beat Vandy,” Lattimore said. “I’m just going to run as hard as I can. I don’t know how many carries I’m going to get. We’ve got Connor (Shaw), we’ve got Kenny (Miles), we’ve got Brandon (Wilds), (and) we’ve got Mike Davis. We’re going to run the ball a lot. I’m going to try to get as many yards as I can on every carry I get.”
In the air
The passing game is being primed to make an impact as well.
Receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. said the starting group remains senior D.L. Moore, junior Ace Sanders, and sophomore Bruce Ellington, with Moore getting a special citation for the work he has done leading into this season.
“D.L. has had a really good camp,” Spurrier Jr. said. “We need to find a way to let him play a little bit because he has done really, really well.”
Sanders looks around him and feels good about the way things have gone for the offense.
“We’re making progress. I feel pretty confident in what we’re doing right now,” Sanders said. “There’s been a big improvement, working with the same quarterback. The improvement has been on another level.”
Spurrier Jr. also noted the solid play of sophomore Damiere Byrd. And freshman standout Shaq Roland figures to factor into the rotation as well. He’s feeling better about his place.
“I’m getting the hang of the offense. The plays are coming easier to me,” Roland said. “I think I’ll be fine. I know the offense pretty well now.”
The improvement of the offense over the past three weeks starts with the guy pulling the trigger. Shaw, the junior quarterback, continues to grow more confident as he is given full charge.
Quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus likes how Shaw has embraced the leadership role and grown more vocal over the course of camp.
“The more plays, the more reps he gets, he’s just going to get better. He’s one of those guys,” Mangus said. “He’s becoming more of a communicator out there. That comes with age and reps.”
Shaw called that an area of emphasis for him.
“I've been working on becoming more of a vocal leader,” he said. “It's going to be fun going to Nashville. I know we're all looking forward to it. It's been a long camp. We're looking forward to playing somebody else.”
Mangus also likes what he has seen of the offensive progression.
“We’re throwing it around a little better. The kids have had a good camp,” he said. “They’ve worked hard. It seems like they’re having fun and ready to go to work every day we get out here. Hopefully, we’ll see the results of that next Thursday.”
Redshirt freshman cornerback Ahmad Christian (concussion) returned to practice Monday night. He practiced in a yellow “no-contact” jersey. Running backs coach Everette Sands said that he expected tailback Brandon Wilds (ankle) back within a week.
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