Can the USC defensive line, which lost Melvin Ingram, be even better?
Ingram set a school single-season record with 10 sacks last year, but he’s being replaced in the starting lineup by Jadeveon Clowney. The reigning SEC freshman of the year, Clowney has gotten much better.
His consistency still isn’t great. He was suspended from the first day of spring practice for academic issues, and he was called out by his coaches for a lackadaisical effort in the spring game. However, he could challenge Ingram’s record even with focus issues. Paired with Devin Taylor, he’ll be a problem for offenses.
"That’s two bookends that I am glad we have them on our team," defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said.
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Byron Jerideau’s development in the middle will be the key to the defensive line’s season, and his spring reviews were good.
Can quarterback Connor Shaw continue to improve?
Shaw is the undisputed starter, and coach Steve Spurrier often praises the progress Shaw made in the final three games of the 2011 season. Shaw had a phenomenal offseason in the conditioning program and will be an even greater threat with his legs this fall. However, South Carolina still is seeking more from the junior with nine career starts.
"He did OK. He needs to start being exceptional," Spurrier said. "I wish he was a little quicker with the ball at times. Connor was a little slow firing the ball and held on to it too long. Justbam-bam, look here, fire it there. It’s just being fast and quick. It’s a fast game out here. He’s got to fire quick, simple as that."
What can Marcus Lattimore do coming off his injury? Will USC lean on him as heavily given the depth at running back?
I don't think there's any reason to think Marcus Lattimore will be anything less than the Marcus Lattimore of old. All indications are that his rehabilitation has gone well, and he's been adamant that he won't be wary of re-injury once he's cleared for full contact work.
With a full month of preseason practice to test the knee, I don't think he'll be tentative, and I expect to see the Marcus Lattimore of old. If he is the Marcus Lattimore of old, I think the backfield balance will look much the same as it did in 2010 - a whole lot of Marcus.
"From what I understand, he should be ready to do everything he did last year," Spurrier said on Thursday.
Will the offensive line be solid this season?
Senior center T.J. Johnson missed two weeks in the spring due to a foot injury, but that was about the only time you heard the name of Johnson or starting guards A.J. Cann and Ronald Patrick. That’s good news if you’re an offensive lineman. It would take a major shakeup to move any of those three from the starting lineup before the Aug. 30 opener against Vanderbilt.
Brandon Shell and Cody Gibson got most of the first-team snaps at tackle, but that’s because they were the only option. With returning starter Mike Matulis sidelined by a shoulder injury, the real competition for the tackle jobs won’t heat up until preseason camp.
"It’ll solidify itself come this fall," offensive line coach Shawn Elliott said.
How is the linebacker depth chart shaping up?
There are four seniors who have the potential to be starters: Shaq Wilson, Reginald Bowens, Damario Jeffery and Quin Smith. Jeffery is listed as the starter at weakside linebacker heading into the fall, with Smith behind him. Wilson and Bowens are listed as co-starters at middle linebacker.
Smith started four games last year and had 48 tackles, more than Bowens. A knee injury slowed his progress this spring, but he should be healthy in the fall.
Jeffery is a player the Gamecocks have been trying to groom for a starting linebacker role for a while.
Junior Chaun Gresham and redshirt freshman Mason Harris are listed as the backups at middle linebacker. Redshirt freshman Cedrick Cooper heads into camp behind Jeffery and Smith.