South Carolina will be down some important pieces from last year's 11-2 squad, but the play of a few youngsters this spring could help ease those departures.
Obviously, the loss of Marcus Lattimore affects the Gamecocks on many different levels, and replacing his on-field presence won't be easy. But rising sophomore running back Mike Davis had the kind of spring the coaches were looking for and he left the spring game as South Carolina's starter.
"I just wanted to go out separate myself from other people, stand out, and get the starting job," Davis told reporters following South Carolina's annual Garnet & Black Spring Game.
He did just that and the coaches clearly didn't need to see much of him Saturday, as he carried the ball just twice for 40 yards. One of those runs went for a 25-yard touchdown.
Davis isn't Lattimore, but he does have a great combination of speed and strength and really took to the weight room during the offseason. He gained 10 pounds and was able to get faster and stronger in the process.
As the third-string back last fall, Davis rushed for 275 and two touchdowns on 52 carries. Brandon Wilds, who was injured all last season, carried the ball seven times for 31 yards in Saturday's spring game and will still be pushing Davis this fall. He'll also have to deal with the shifty Shon Carson, who has been plagued by injuries during his first two years with the Gamecocks.
"The competition never ends," Davis said about being named the starter this spring.
Staying with the offense, South Carolina coaches were pretty impressed with rising sophomore receiver Shaq Roland, who caught four passes for 44 yards and a 6-yard touchdown. With Ace Sanders' surprising departure to the NFL, the coaches have to find someone to help Bruce Ellington out at receiver. The hope is that Roland can be that guy, and maybe more. He has all the talent to be a real star and was the Gamecocks' top recruit in their 2012 recruiting class.
All that skill never really translated to the field last year, as he battled focus issues. That seems to have changed this spring, as Roland appeared to turn the corner. He still has to bring that same sort of focus into fall practice and the season, but his play this spring really has coaches excited about his potential in 2013.
On the defensive side of the ball, coaches are looking to fill some holes in the secondary, and a good outing from safety Chaz Elder on Saturday was a positive sign for the Gamecocks.
Because of injuries, Elder, who joined Davis and Roland as ESPN 150 members in 2012, learned last minute that he would be starting Saturday. He entered the spring third on the depth chart at free safety, but took advantage of his spring game reps. He recorded three tackles and an interception that he returned 44 yards.
Elder said after Saturday's game that he felt more comfortable on the field this spring, and with T.J. Gurley out for the spring, Elder received a lot more reps. He's understanding checks, formations and schemes better, and the hope is that continues through the fall.
"He had a descent spring," defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said of Elder. "I would have liked to see him get a little better at the things we do. He made some plays (Saturday) and grew up a little bit (Saturday). I think that will help him in the future. We have high expectations for Chaz and he’s not there yet, but hopefully he will keep working."