With South Carolina’s 2013 spring practices in the books, here are five questions facing the Gamecocks between now and the season opener against North Carolina.
1. How will the linebacker battle shape up?
USC coaches praised how the linebackers performed this spring with the team replacing four contributing seniors from last year. However, the number of players at the position will more than double this summer. Cedrick Cooper will return from a knee injury, and South Carolina’s four linebacker signees will be on campus. At least one or two of the newcomers could crack the rotation or find immediate playing time on special teams.
2. What will Shon Carson’s role be?
The redshirt sophomore tailback from Lake City missed the first 12 games of last season with a wrist injury, then suited up in the Outback Bowl and came away with two catches and no carries. He missed all of spring as a member of the baseball team. Even though coaches know he’s talented, Carson remains a wild card for the football team with three carries and two injury-plagued years on his resume.
3. Who will handle kickoffs and placekicking?
South Carolina is replacing its starting kicker for the third consecutive year. Nick St. Germain was brought in last year as the Gamecocks’ first recruited scholarship kicker since Ryan Succop. Redshirt sophomore Landon Ard handled some of the kickoff duties last year, was usually the first player to line up and attempt kicks this spring, and didn’t miss in Saturday’s spring game. Ard has the edge going into the summer.
4. Who will emerge opposite Bruce Ellington?
Ellington is the team’s leading returning receiver and looks as comfortable as ever at the position. Sophomore Shaq Roland and redshirt sophomore Shamier Jeffery made strides this spring and are the leading candidates to complement Ellington. Nick Jones and Damiere Byrd also are in position to make an impact, with Jones playing the best football of his career late in 2012. Meanwhile, K.J. Brent, Kwinton Smith and Jody Fuller are looking to find a role. There aren’t as many mouths to feed as last year, but as every year proves, there are only so many receptions to go around.
5. What will the quarterback timeshare look like?
Both Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson will play in 2013, Steve Spurrier has said since the 2012 season ended. Knowing that helps him prepare like a starter instead of a backup, Dylan Thompson said Saturday. Each played in 11 games last year, with Shaw starting 11 games and Thompson starting two. It could take a few games this year to know how the reps will be split. “I know Connor’s here and Connor knows I’m here, and we’re going to work together,” Thompson said.
BONUS: What about the depth at cornerback?
Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree are all but locked in as experienced starters. But after that ... Hampton's current backups - Ahmad Christian (baseball) and Rico McWilliams (injury) - were both out this spring. Ronnie Martin was expected to compete with Legree but missed most of the spring with a hamstring injury. Sidney Rhodes was the only backup corner on the depth chart to perform over the entire spring. USC signee Pharoh Cooper will get a look this summer, and safety Chaz Elder could play corner if needed.