Junior quarterback Connor Shaw, who missed Thursday’s practice due to back spasms, joined the Gamecocks for a Saturday afternoon workout.
Shaw walked into the team’s closed practice with his helmet and shoulder pads along with the rest of his teammates, and coach Steve Spurrier said before the practice that he expected Shaw to be fine.
South Carolina practiced Saturday in their indoor facility in order to begin preparing for Vanderbilt’s artificial surface. The Gamecocks did not practice Friday.
SHELL READY FOR SNAPS
Discounting four snaps last season against East Carolina, which the NCAA was happy to do due to a nagging back injury that qualified him for a medical redshirt season, Brandon Shell hasn’t been in a football game since Goose Creek High School finished its 2010 season.
“Yeah, it’s been a long time,” said Shell, the South Carolina freshman who will start at left tackle for the No. 9 Gamecocks on Thursday against Vanderbilt. “I am just ready to get on the field and go full speed and see how good I am against other people. That’s what I am really looking forward to.”
The last time Shell started a football game was against Northwestern High School, no pushover, but not the SEC either.
“They looked like y’all,” the 6-foot-6, 331-pounder said to reporters last week, “small people.”
Vanderbilt’s Kyle Woestmann is not a small person. The third-year sophomore is 6-foot-3, 255 pounds, and he will play defensive end across from Shell most of the night Thursday. Shell has picked apart as much tape as he can find on Woestmann, hoping enough study will help negate the experience difference.
“I am studying what he does from the short field, what he does when he’s on the wide side of the field,” Shell said. “I am checking if he leans or not. I am trying to watch everything to get kind of an attack to everything he does.”
The size of the opponent has not been the only adjustment for Shell in college. Goose Creek coach Chuck Reedy, a former South Carolina assistant coach, believes in the running game, almost to the exclusion of throwing the football. In Shell’s final high school season, the Gators ran the ball 692 times and threw it 103 times. All 103 of those pass attempts were play-action passes, Shell said, so he blocked as if it was a running play.
The result of the Goose Creek philosophy is Shell did not pass block in high school, not once, and only began to work on the technique with his uncle (NFL Hall of Famer Art Shell) in his senior year of high school and most of those coaching sessions were delivered over the phone after Art Shell had watched video of his nephew’s games.
Learning to pass block “has been a real big deal, coming to the college level and learning how to pass block against bigger and faster guys,” Shell said. “At first, it was kind of a struggle, but I think I am fully working my way into becoming a pass blocker.”
The hype surrounding Damiere Byrd is less than half of what it was at this time last year, but Byrd’s belief in his preparedness is at least twice as high.
“I feel like I am way better than what I was at this point last season,” he said. “I know a lot more. I am more comfortable. I know the offense. I know how to read defenses. I am just ready to play football now.”
Byrd, who also is a sprinter for the Gamecocks track team, appeared ready last year, making play after play in preseason practice and scrimmages. However, he was suspended by the NCAA for the first four games of the season and only caught one pass.
The suspension “definitely took a lot from me,” Byrd said. “I feel like I kind of hit a breaking point at that point.”
Byrd, who missed one day last week with a shoulder sprain, is backing up Bruce Ellington, he said, and can play all three of the team’s wide receiver positions.
A summer spent focusing almost entirely on football has resulted in a starting wide receiver job for Ellington.
“I did a little bit of basketball, but I was just focused on football out here every day,” Ellington said. “I do feel like I am going to be a better receiver this year. I am learning the offense and I am learning how to get open and learning how to run my routes to get open.”
Ellington caught 17 passes for 211 yards and rushed 17 times for 106 yards last season.