Schedule: The Gamecocks will open spring practice at 4:15 p.m. ET on Tuesday. All 15 of the spring practice sessions are open to the public unless determined otherwise. The Gamecocks also will practice on Thursday this week and then take a hiatus for spring break and return to practice on March 18. The Garnet & Black spring game is set for April 12 at noon ET and will be televised live by ESPNU.
What’s new: From a staff standpoint, not a lot. For the first time in a while, South Carolina’s coaching staff will return intact.
On the move: Junior Cedrick Cooper, who played sparingly last season at linebacker and a good bit on special teams, is moving to defensive end. Sophomore Jamari Smith is moving back to cornerback after playing some at running back last season. Smith has bounced around between the positions since arriving as a freshman.
On the mend: Receiver Damiere Byrd will miss the spring after injuring his knee during bowl practice in December. Fullback Connor McLaurin will miss the spring after suffering a broken left fibula just days before the bowl game. Cornerback Ali Groves will be limited after undergoing shoulder surgery. Offensive tackle Mike Matulis has undergone surgeries on each of his shoulders and redshirted last season.
New face: Junior-college defensive tackle Abu Lamin enrolled in January and will go through spring practice. The 6-foot-4, 295-pound Lamin has three years of eligibility remaining, and the Gamecocks are hoping he can be a run-stopper in the middle of that defensive line.
Question marks: Cornerback is at the top of the list. Only four recruited scholarship cornerbacks are on the roster this spring, and there’s little experience. Redshirt sophomore Rico McWilliams is the “veteran” of the group and has all of two career starts. The Gamecocks are bringing in several heralded cornerbacks in this signing class, but Wesley Green and Chris Lammons won’t be on campus until the summer. With Jadeveon Clowney leaving early for the NFL, the Gamecocks also need to find some disrupters off the edge on defense. It’s a big spring for redshirt sophomore Darius English, who has beefed up close to 245 pounds. Gerald Dixon is another redshirt sophomore who played some last season and showed a lot of promise. Cooper also could help in pass-rushing situations. He recently ran a 4.47 40-yard dash and is up to 235 pounds. He’s one of the best pure athletes on the team.
Key battle: Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward will have several options at linebacker, meaning guys will be jockeying for playing time this spring. It’s doubtful anybody will unseat sophomore Skai Moore at weakside linebacker, but Kaiwan Lewis and T.J. Holloman will battle it out at middle linebacker. Fifth-year senior Sharrod Golightly returns at the hybrid “spur” position, and sophomore Jordan Diggs is one to watch there, as well. Sophomores Larenz Bryant and Jonathan Walton will also be hard to keep off the field this fall at the linebacker/spur positions, where the Gamecocks should have plenty of depth, especially once top signee Bryson Allen-Williams arrives on campus this summer.
Breaking out: Pharoh Cooper was one of Steve Spurrier’s favorites last season as a true freshman, and you can bet the Gamecocks will look for more ways to get the ball in his hands in 2014 with Bruce Ellington leaving early for the NFL draft. The 5-11, 200-pound Cooper will get plenty of reps this spring, especially with Byrd still recovering from his knee injury. Cooper could be a force in the slot, and now that he has a season under his belt, should develop into one of the better after-the-catch players in the league. Staying at the receiver position, junior Shaq Roland could also be poised for a big season provided that he has matured off the field.
Don’t forget about: The Gamecocks are deep at running back, and Mike Davis is coming off an 1,183-yard season. Brandon Wilds should also be healthy, but redshirt freshman David Williams adds that breakaway dimension that’s so valuable in this league. The 6-1, 215-pound Williams posted the fastest 40 time on the team during winter conditioning (Byrd didn’t run) and has a chance to emerge as a nice complement to Davis, Wilds and Shon Carson.
All eyes on: Now that Connor Shaw has moved on after going 27-5 as the Gamecocks' starting quarterback, fifth-year senior Dylan Thompson gets his shot to show that he can lead this team and get it done on an every-down basis. He has been terrific in relief roles and was one of the stars of the Gamecocks’ offseason conditioning program. While he's not the extend-the-play quarterback Shaw was, Thompson can stand back there in the pocket and make precision throws. Not only that, but he has one of the biggest and best offensive lines in the SEC returning.