Position battles to watch as the Gamecocks open spring practice on Tuesday.
1. RUNNING BACK
Marcus Lattimore didn’t top 700 yards and didn’t finish the season, but it’s still going to be tough to replace what he brought to the Gamecocks. Brandon Wilds and Mike Davis will attempt to do it on the field. In the locker room, it’s unknown if anyone can fill that void.
It’s tough to appreciate the fact that T.J. Johnson started every game of his collegiate career on an SEC offensive line. He thinks freshman Cody Waldrop will take his place, although moving A.J. Cann to center and finding a guard to replace Cann also could be an option.
3. TIGHT END
Stalwart Justice Cunningham held off flashier options at his spot and made two of the most dynamic catches of the season. He caught 23 balls for 324 yards and didn’t miss many blocks. Buster Anderson will blossom into a star in his place, but don’t overlook Drew Owens.
Shaq Wilson led the Gamecocks in tackles last year with 86, and there’s no veteran ready to take his spot. There is Kaiwan Lewis, who showed athleticism last year on special teams. Redshirt freshman T.J. Holloman will make his case to be in the mix of the four-man rotation. Kelvin Rainey is expected to move from tight end to linebacker in the spring. At spur, it should be between redshirt freshman Jordan Diggs and redshirt junior Sharrod Golightly. Golightly got the call at backup in 2012.
5. FREE SAFETY
D.J. Swearinger, the vocal and physical leader of the defense, had 79 tackles, two interceptions, seven pass breakups and enough big hits to become a regular on the commissioner’s TV screen on Mondays. T.J. Gurley could make noise here when he returns this summer from his knee injury. Redshirt freshman Kyle Fleetwood and sophomore Kadetrix Marcus will figure in the mix at safety as well. Marcus is listed as a pre-spring starter.
It appears Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson will compete for the starting spot, but that competition won't truly start until August. Shaw, who will be a senior this year, is recovering from foot surgery. Thompson will be a redshirt junior. He and redshirt freshman Brendan Nosovitch will take the lead in spring practice snaps. True freshman Connor Mitch is in school now and will make his debut this week.
7. WIDE RECEIVER
This became a position to watch when Ace Sanders declared his intentions to turn pro. An experienced and productive Bruce Ellington is back. Damiere Byrd will be a junior, coming off a season in which he started hot, slowed down and then finished with a solid bowl game. Byrd is listed as a pre-spring starter. Top class of 2012 signee Shaq Roland will look to build on a quiet freshman campaign in which he caught five balls for 80 yards. Overall, eight scholarship receivers return, so the spring and summer will be key for guys such as Roland, Shamier Jeffery, K.J. Brent, Kwinton Smith and Jody Fuller.
Adam Yates has moved on after one year at the helm. The Gamecocks signed Nick St. Germain in the class of 2012 to be the kicker of the future, and he'll get his first major chance this spring. Walk-on Landon Ard is listed first on the pre-spring depth chart, and USC will bring in at least two more walk-ons this summer to add to the mix.
9. DEFENSIVE LINE
Jadeveon Clowney is back for an encore season after breaking records in 2012. There will be new faces in the mix in 2013, as USC loses Byron Jerideau, Aldrick Fordham and Devin Taylor. USC played eight players regularly throughout last year. Chaz Sutton should take over at Taylor's spot. Look for redshirt freshman Darius English and redshirt sophomore Gerald Dixon to get the first looks as the top defensive end backups, though redshirt sophomore Deon Green could be in the mix. At Jerideau's old spot, J.T. Surratt is listed first heading into the spring. Gerald Dixon Jr. and Phillip Dukes will also contend for playing time again.
10. HOLDER AND LONG-SNAPPER
South Carolina will have to fill the two most-under-appreciated positions in 2013. Holder Seth Strickland and long-snapper Walker Inabinet were both nearly flawless at their jobs in 2012. Patrick Fish was listed as Strickland's backup this past season, though Bruce Ellington took a few snaps there. Redshirt sophomore Coleman Harley is the only returning long-snapper on the roster.
-- GoGamecocks' Dwayne McLemore contributed to this report