South Carolina is scheduled to hold the first of 15 spring practices Tuesday afternoon at its Bluff Road practice facility. All the Gamecocks workouts are scheduled to be open to the public, so we’ve provided you a primer of the five players to keep an eye on if you go to the Proving Grounds.
The junior from Boiling Springs went from afterthought to front of mind in 2012, playing in 11 games and starting two games in place of injured starter Connor Shaw. Thompson (6-foot-3, 212 pounds) closed the season so well that his disastrous debut against Vanderbilt has been forgotten. Thompson has the look of the kind of quarterback that has excelled under Steve Spurrier, limited athletically but eager to carry out his marching orders and get the ball out of his hands. Thompson will get most of the first-team snaps to himself this spring because of Shaw’s foot injury, and he has areas he can improve, most notably completion percentage. He completed 52 percent of his passes last year compared to Shaw’s 67.5 percent.
Remember him? When Marcus Lattimore tore his ACL in 2011, it was Wilds, the 6-2, 218 pound sophomore, who carried the load, starting the final five regular season games. He had three 100-plus-yard games in a four-game span. He had 28 carries for 137 yards against Tennessee, 29 for 120 against Florida and 20 for 109 against The Citadel. He finished the year with 107 carries for 486 yards, a 4.5-yard average. Wilds missed all of 2012 after suffering a severe ankle sprain in a preseason scrimmage. He was healthy enough by the end of the season he could have played in an emergency situation, but the Gamecocks chose to redshirt him. Now he’ll compete with Mike Davis — and in the fall Shon Carson and David Williams — for the starting running back job.
Shell (6-6, 331) was recruited to be South Carolina’s left tackle of the future, and that’s where he started 2012 as a redshirt freshman. However, he didn’t start in that spot again. He lost his starting job for three games and then returned to right tackle, having been supplanted at left tackle by converted defensive lineman Corey Robinson. Mike Matulis, who may be the Gamecocks’ best overall tackle, is coming back from a second shoulder surgery, and Robinson has plenty of physical potential. So, if Shell wants to win the left tackle job, and get the accompanying acclaim and NFL attention that comes with it, he needs to have a good spring.
The 5-10, 197-pound junior will find himself in an unfamiliar spot this spring: veteran voice. Hampton’s physical abilities have never been in question, but there was a time the thought of him as a team leader would have made the coaching staff cringe. The Gamecocks hope that time is in the past because, with D.J. Swearinger and Akeem Auguste no longer around, Hampton has the most experience, and therefore biggest platform, in the secondary. He’ll need to help shepherd in new starters at the opposite cornerback and free safety positions.
It won’t be hard to find Lewis at linebacker. There aren’t that many of them this spring. The 6-foot, 225-pounder quietly got on the field as a freshman last season. He played in 10 games, almost all on special teams and showed impressive athleticism. The middle linebacker job is wide open for him to take this spring, as the top four linebackers from 2012 all are gone. Lewis was an all-state player in New Jersey and considered a four-star prospect in 2011.