COLUMBIA – With National Signing Day in the rearview mirror, the focus finally shifts to spring practice and the 2013 season. How will the South Carolina roster look in Steve Spurrier’s ninth season as coach?
The projected roster and depth chart for offense:
Connor Shaw’s postseason foot surgery provides redshirt junior Dylan Thompson with the best opportunity of his career — to showcase his skills in the spring. In the process, he will try to convince Spurrier and quarterback coach G.A. Mangus that he deserves more playing time. Spurrier is elated that he finally (!) has two quarterbacks to select from, describing the situation as the best of his career since 2000, when he watched Rex Grossman and Jesse Palmer share snaps at Florida. Shaw is 17-3 as a starter, the best record after 20 starts of any signal-caller in USC history, and remains USC’s best option at the position, especially on the road in the SEC. Mangus is excited about the chance to finally coach up Brendan Nosovitch, one of the most productive throwing quarterbacks in Pennsylvania prep history. Connor Mitch enrolled early in order to get a head start on his career, and arrives in Columbia with impressive high school credentials as one of the top QB prospects in the Southeast during the 2013 recruiting cycle.
Starter: Connor Shaw
Backup: Dylan Thompson
Others: Brendan Nosovitch, Connor Mitch
Mike Davis was elevated to backup running back behind Kenny Miles when Marcus Lattimore suffered his devastating knee injury against Tennessee in late October. Davis ended the season with 275 yards rushing on 52 carries, an average of 5.3 yards per carry. Since Lattimore and Miles have moved on, and Shaw is rehabbing the foot injury, Davis becomes the top returning rusher in the spring. The other three running backs on the spring roster — Brandon Wilds, Shon Carson and Kendric Salley — combined for zero carries in 2012.
Wilds, though, exhibited his skills in the second half of 2011 following Lattimore’s first serious knee injury. Carson is playing baseball, so his availability for the spring is up in the air. How much he steps on the football practice field will depend on the amount of playing time he sees for Chad Holbrook. Salley redshirted last season and could be the biggest beneficiary if Carson misses some workouts. Once he recovered from a knee injury suffered during his senior season in high school, Salley practiced extensively in December and the spring represents his first opportunity to prove himself after rushing for more than 5,000 yards and 90 touchdowns at Williston-Elko High School. Promising prospects David Williams and Jamari Smith join the team in August.
Starter: Mike Davis
Backup: Brandon Wilds
Others: Shon Carson, Kendric Salley, David Williams, Jamari Smith, Connor McLaurin (FB)
Position coach Steve Spurrier Jr. recently described the spring situation at wide receiver as “wide- open.” He’s right. Ace Sanders’ mildly surprising decision to leave for the NFL leaves a void at the top of the receiving chart. Bruce Ellington is currently playing basketball, so his availability for the beginning of spring practice is uncertain. Spurrier Jr. didn’t mince words — it’s time for guys like Shaq Roland, Shamier Jeffery, Damiere Byrd, K.J. Brent and Kwinton Smith to step up and prove they’re capable of becoming SEC-caliber receivers.
Much was expected of Roland when he arrived at USC last summer, but he had just five receptions in 2012. Jeffery has the magical last name, but lacked the attitude and work ethic to match it. He has shown signs during winter workouts of turning things around and wanting to live up to the legacy. Byrd, one of the fastest players in the country, is running track. He missed multiple workouts last spring for the same reason, but Spurrier insisted at his Signing Day press conference that the speedster has plenty of room for improvement and needs to run routes and catch as many balls as possible. With just eight receivers on the roster, most of them should receive plenty of work in March and April.
Starters: Bruce Ellington, Nick Jones, Shaq Roland
Backups: Damiere Byrd, K.J. Brent, Kwinton Smith
Others: Shamier Jeffery, Jody Fuller
Rory “Busta” Anderson spent two years as Justice Cunningham’s understudy. Now it’s his turn to become the top gun. His career production has been nothing short of incredible: 22 receptions, eight touchdowns. The 6-foot-5 Anderson averaged almost 20 yards per reception in 2012. Behind him is rising sophomore Jerell Adams, who earned SEC All-Freshman accolades by the league’s coaches after catching four passes for 90 yards (22.5 yards per catch) and one touchdown in nine games. The best synonym for Adams is “gazelle.” He possesses the size, speed, athleticism and agility to become an elite SEC tight end. Is 2013 the year when injury-plagued Drew Owens, another talented player with solid physical credentials (6-6, 236 pounds), finally makes his mark on the program?
Starter: Busta Anderson
Backup: Jerell Adams
Others: Drew Owens
With four returning starters (only center T.J. Johnson departed from the starting unit), and five signees coming aboard this summer, Shawn Elliott is finally building the quality depth he covets at the offensive line position. Redshirt freshman Cody Waldrop is eyed as Johnson’s successor, but he must battle Will Sport and Clayton Stadnik in the spring before there is any coronation. A.J. Cann and Ronald Patrick are solid and reliable at guard, while Brandon Shell found his comfort zone when he was moved to right tackle last season.
Corey Robinson was the revelation of 2012 along the offensive front. After struggling at the outset, the mammoth 6-8, 337-pounder settled comfortably into the left tackle spot and proved adept at keeping charging SEC defensive ends out of the backfield.
What effect will a second shoulder surgery have on Mike Matulis? USC may have to wait until August to find out. Cody Gibson has been a starter at tackle as well. Where does former four-star prospects Brock Stadnik fit into the O-line picture? This spring may yield some answers. Elliott will first try him at one of the guard spots.
Because he lined up mostly at defensive end during his time at Chapin High School, 6-9 Mason Zandi was recognized as a long-term project when he signed with USC in 2012, and this spring could mark a significant step forward in his development. Five promising signees join the program in August, including two from Class AA super-power Dillon (Bryce King and D.J. Park) and four-star prospect Na’Ty Rodgers from Pomfret, Md. Surely, the offensive line picture has brightened in the past year or so, and could get downright interesting when August rolls around.
Starters: Corey Robinson (LT), A.J. Cann (LG), Cody Waldrop (C), Ronald Patrick (RG), Brandon Shell (RT)
Backups: Mike Matulis, Cody Gibson, Will Sport, Brock Stadnik, Clayton Stadnik
Others: Bryce King, Alan Knott, D.J. Park, Na’Ty Rodgers, J.P. Vonashek, Mason Zandi.