SEC: DeAngelo Smith

Schedule: The Gamecocks open practice Friday, and their first day in pads is on Aug. 7. They open the season on Aug. 30 at Vanderbilt, which will air at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN.

Returning starters: Seven on offense and six on defense.

Star power: Though he missed half of last season, running back Marcus Lattimore is the face of South Carolina's program and is one of the nation's best running backs. Before he went down with his ACL injury he led the SEC in rushing. He has 2,015 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns in 20 career games.

New faces: With Alshon Jeffery gone, the Gamecocks are looking for more help at wide receiver. The staff hopes a lot of that help will come from incoming freshman Shaq Roland, who was South Carolina's top recruit in the 2012 class. He'll have every chance to compete for immediate playing time. Running back Mike Davis provides good depth, and Chaz Elder is talented enough to get some quality reps at safety during fall camp.

Don’t forget about: Last season, defensive end Devin Taylor received a lot of praise during the preseason, but played in the shadows of Melvin Ingram and Jadeveon Clowney. But don't think Taylor isn't fired up for his final season in Columbia. He's still an extremely disruptive pass-rusher, and he's combined for 13.5 sacks and 17 quarterback hurries over the past two seasons. Clowney might get he attention, but teams can't sleep on Taylor.

Big shoes to fill: Just look at the numbers and you'll see how much Jeffery meant to South Carolina. He was the only player to catch 30 or more passes for the Gamecocks last season with 49, and he caught 88 passes in 2010. Now that he's gone, South Carolina is turning to a group of very unproven targets. Ace Sanders is the top returning receiver with 29 catches last season, and has been anointed the No. 1 receiver. After that no wide receiver had more than 17 catches.

Key battle: South Carolina has to find reliable receivers this fall. Sanders has done well when his number has been called, but he needs help, and the offense needs help. Roland will get his chance, but he'll also compete with unproven starters D.L. Moore and DeAngelo Smith. Bruce Ellington is back and could also get time as a Wildcat quarterback. Speedster Damiere Byrd, Nick Jones, Shamier Jeffery and K.J. Brent will also get their shots. Freshman Jody Fuller could also get a chance to grab some reps.

Rising star: South Carolina enters fall camp with one of the strongest defensive lines in the SEC. While most of the attention is paid to the outside, sophomore defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles has the makings to be an elite player in this league. He played in 12 games last season, starting six, and registered 28 tackles with two for loss. He had a solid spring and should improve on his numbers this fall, especially when it comes to production behind the line of scrimmage.

Bottom line: The Gamecocks are fresh off of their first 11-win season, but could have bigger things in store in 2012. While the schedule gets tougher with the addition of a road game at LSU, Steve Spurrier's chirping means he's pretty excited about the team he has coming back and he's ready to make a run back to the SEC title game. If Lattimore is healthy and Connor Shaw can continue to be the pass-first quarterback Spurrier wants, the offense should see some good balance. But receivers have to step up. Defensively, this team is loaded again and will rely on its front seven. If the pieces fall into place, South Carolina could be looking at another sweep through the SEC East and another trip to Atlanta.
Justin Hunter and Da'Rick RogersAP Photo/Wade PayneJustin Hunter (11) and Da'Rick Rogers (21) are considered to be the best receiving duo in the SEC.
Our SEC position rankings continue with a look at schools' wide receiver and tight end groups.

Past rankings:
On to the league's wide receiver/tight end groups:

1. Tennessee: The Vols are equipped with two of the top wideouts in the league with Da'Rick Rogers, who was second in the SEC in receiving last year, and Justin Hunter, who might be the SEC's top deep threat. It sounds like Hunter will be 100 percent this fall after his ACL injury last year. Junior college transfer Cordarrelle Patterson is big, fast and possesses the big-play gene. The speedy Zach Rogers is back and is so is talented tight end Mychal Rivera.

2. Arkansas: Cobi Hamilton is now Arkansas' primary receiver, and he might be the league's most complete wideout. He can make the big-play and elude defenders along the way. While Marquel Wade's status is still unclear, if he does return, he'll be a major lift for this offense because of his playmaking ability in the slot. Julian Horton and Javontee Herndon have always impressed coaches in practice and now will get their chances to in games. Tight end Chris Gragg should be even more involved and is the league's top tight end.

3. Georgia: While Malcolm Mitchell could go back and forth between receiver and corner, when he's at receiver he's Georgia's top offensive threat and was one of the league's best as a rookie. There are vets behind him, starting with reliable senior Tavarres King, who had a very good spring, senior Marlon Brown, who seemed to take a big step in his game this spring. Sophomores Michael Bennett and Chris Conley combined for 48 catches for 608 yards and seven touchdowns last year. Unproven tight ends Arthur Lynch and Jay Rome will replace Orson Charles and Aron White.

4. Texas A&M: This isn't the fastest group out there, but there are some pretty reliable weapons, starting with star Ryan Swope, who could have left for the NFL after catching 89 passes for 1,207 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. Uzoma Nwachukwu was third on the team with 50 catches for 639 yards and three tight ends -- Nehemiah Hicks, Michael Lamothe and Hutson Prioleau -- return. Keep an eye on junior Nate Askew, who could be a downfield threat this fall.

5. LSU: Odell Beckham Jr. was one of the top rookies last year and could be even better in Year 2. He'll be joined by potential deep threat and big-play target Jarvis Landry, who developed some good chemistry with quarterback Zach Mettenberger this spring. Russell Shepard is talented, but he's been wildly inconsistent. Keep an eye on junior James Wright and incoming frosh Avery Johnson, who is the younger brother of Patrick Peterson. Also, tight end Chase Clement is on the John Mackey watch list.

[+] EnlargeJordan Matthews
Don McPeak/US PresswireWide receiver Jordan Matthews is one player the Commodores will be counting on this fall.
6. Vanderbilt: This group surprised last year and returns most of its components, starting with Jordan Matthews, who was fourth in the SEC in receiving last year. Sophomore Chris Boyd was solid last year, hauling in 31 catches and eight touchdowns. Jonathan Krause is very good in space and should see his role increase this fall after a solid spring. The coaches are excited about former QB Josh Grady moving to receiver. Replacing tight end Brandon Barden won't be easy.

7. Alabama: There is more speed out wide in Tuscaloosa, but there's a lot more youth. The Tide could turn to freshmen Chris Black, Amari Cooper and Eddie Williams to help develop a more downfield passing game. More will be expected from veterans Kenny Bell and Kevin Norwood, while sophomore DeAndrew White possesses a ton of speed. Still no word on Duron Carter. Tight end Michael Williams was solid last year, but will be used even more this fall.

8. Mississippi State: There is a lot of experience here, but this group has still underperformed at times, especially senior Chad Bumphis, who has yet to live up to all the hype that followed him from high school. Seniors Chris Smith and Arceto Clark combined for 65 catches last year, while the staff is very excited about the big-play potential redshirt freshman Joe Morrow possesses. Tight end Malcolm Johnson serves as a very reliable tight end target, as well.

9. Missouri: The Tigers lost two starting receivers and stud tight end Michael Egnew, but three of the top five pass catchers are back, including inside threat T.J. Moe, who led Mizzou in receiving last year. Big things are expected from Marcus Lucas, who can stretch the field with his speed and physicality, and the coaches think L'Damian Washington can also be a downfield threat. Also, Dorial Green-Beckham, last year's top recruit, should make an immediate impact. Eric Waters is replacing Egnew, but has just two career catches and suffered a knee injury this spring.

10. Auburn: Emory Blake is one of the league's top downfield threats and has been one of Auburn's most consistent offensive weapons. So has tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen, who should be more of a passing threat with the addition of transfer fullback Jay Prosch. There is a lot of depth, but it's unproven. Trovon Reed was supposed to be a star, but had a lackluster second year. Seniors Travante Stallworth and DeAngelo Benton have 15 and 14 career catches, respectively. Quan Bray has shown potential and could have a bigger role this season and keep an eye on freshman Ricardo Louis.

11. Florida: The Gators have struggled here since 2009 and still lack proven playmakers. Andre Debose is probably the best bet to be one, but he's been very inconsistent. Quinton Dunbar has the speed to be an outside threat, but caught just 14 passes last year. And the coaches are still waiting for senior Frankie Hammond Jr. to turn things up. True freshman Latroy Pittman had a great spring and the coaches are excited about his potential. Tight end Jordan Reed is one of the most athletic players in the league and will be a bigger target with two young quarterbacks throwing the ball.

12. South Carolina: Now that Alshon Jeffery is gone, the Gamecocks have questions and inexperience here. The fast, athletic Ace Sanders is the only returning pass catcher with at least 20 catches from last year (29). The hope is Bruce Ellington will be more of a factor this fall. Tight ends Justice Cunningham and Rory Anderson combined for 26 catches and four touchdowns. Damiere Byrd has blazing speed, but caught just one pass last year. DeAngelo Smith had a solid spring, and the coaches hope he can be a downfield threat. A lot will be expected from incoming freshman Shaq Roland.

13. Ole Miss: Sophomore Donte Moncrief is a budding star in this league and thinks he'll be even better in Hugh Freeze's spread offense. Ja-Mes Logan caught 20 passes last year, but had a very good spring. But Nickolas Brassell was an academic casualty and Randall Mackey had to move over from quarterback. The coaches are looking for consistency from Terrell Grant and Vince Sanders, who are both pretty unproven. Tight end Jamal Mosley is expected to do more in the spread and averaged 13.8 yards per catch last year.

14. Kentucky: Joker Phillips' goal this spring was to find more playmakers and he thinks he did with sophomore Demarco Robinson, who had five receptions last year, and redshirt freshman Daryl Collins. The hope is that they'll take some pressure off of La'Rod King, who is really the only proven receiving threat on the team. Tight ends Ronnie Shields and Tyler Robinson did well this spring, but combined for just 10 catches last year.
Schedule: South Carolina opens spring camp at 4:15 p.m. ET Tuesday at the Bluff Road Practice Fields. The Gamecocks will conclude spring with the Garnet & Black Spring Game on April 14, beginning at 1 p.m. ET at Williams-Brice Stadium. All 15 of practices are open to the public, unless determined otherwise.

What's new: Four of South Carolina's nine assistants are new. John Butler, Jay Graham, Jeep Hunter and Ellis Johnson are all gone. Lorenzo Ward was promoted from defensive backs coach to defensive coordinator, replacing Johnson. Ward will still focus on the cornerbacks this season. Head coach Steve Spurrier also added Kirk Botkin to coach linebackers/Spurs, Grady Brown to coach the secondary, Joe Robinson to coach special teams/tight ends, and Everette Sands to coach running backs. Joe Connolly also replaces Craig Fitzgerald as South Carolina's strength and conditioning coach. Also, South Carolina will be looking to replace kicker Jay Wooten and punter Joey Scribner-Howard. Walk-ons Landon Ard and Adam Yates will compete at kicker this spring, and sophomore Patrick Fish should be No. 1 at punter.

On the move: Safety DeVonte Holloman is looking to transition back to the Spur position after spending 2011 at safety. He worked at the Spur last spring, but the departing Antonio Allen played there last season. Also, Damario Jeffery is slated to move from the Spur to Will linebacker this spring. Jimmy Legree is moving back to cornerback after making a couple of starts at free safety last season.

On the mend: The Gamecocks will be without star running back Marcus Lattimore, who is still recovering from a devastating knee injury suffered halfway through the 2011 season. Running back Shon Carson is also out and recovering from a knee injury suffered last season. Sophomore offensive lineman Mike Matulis will sit out the spring after recovering from shoulder surgery, and senior cornerback Akeem Auguste will be limited as he tries to get over a foot injury that kept him out of all but one game last season. Safety D.J. Swearinger will miss the spring after having an operation on his foot. Offensive lineman Brock Stadnik will sit out the spring following shoulder surgery.

Questions: Auguste and Swearinger are dealing with injuries, South Carolina must replace three of its top four cornerbacks, and Holloman is moving back to the Spur, meaning the Gamecocks' secondary is loaded with questions. Sophomore Victor Hampton is expected to take one of the cornerback spots. He's talented, but has had off-field issues. He has the potential to be a key player for the Gamecocks. Depth behind him is a question, as Legree and Cadarious Sanders are the only other cornerbacks with game experience. A big spring from redshirt freshman Ahmad Christian could put him in the thick of it for a starting cornerback spot. Sophomore-to-be Brison Williams takes over at strong safety after playing in eight games last season, but depth behind him is a concern, as rising sophomore Kadetrix Marcus, Edward Muldrow and Sheldon Royster enter spring with six games of experience, all from Marcus. South Carolina must also find players at free safety.

Key battle: With Alshon Jeffery taking his talents to the NFL, and Bruce Ellington sticking to basketball, South Carolina enters the spring with little experience at wide receiver. Ace Sanders is the only returning receiver with 20 or more catches (29), and Nick Jones is the only other one with 10 or more catches (12). There are bodies, but not production. D.L. Moore and DeAngelo Smith should enter the spring as starters, along with Sanders. Both showed promise in the past, but they combined for just 11 catches last season. Lamar Scruggs is a junior, but didn't catch a pass last season. Speedster Damiere Byrd is back after missing four games last season because of NCAA issues. Also, redshirt freshmen Shamier Jeffery (Alshon Jeffery's brother) and K.J. Brent will need to have big springs. South Carolina is expected to get good use out of incoming freshman Shaq Roland, but the Gamecocks need to find at least two solid options before he arrives this summer.

Don't forget about: South Carolina's front seven should be solid again in 2012. Jadeveon Clowney and Devin Taylor will man the defensive end positions, while rising sophomore Kelcy Quarles, who enjoyed a tremendous freshman season, will help ease the loss of Travian Robertson inside. At linebacker, South Carolina only lost Rodney Paulk, and returns seniors Reginald Bowens and Shaq Wilson, who combined for 96 tackles in 2011. Seniors Damario Jeffery and Quinn Smith will also get time at the Will spot.

Breaking out: The coaches are very excited about the potential redshirt freshmen offensive tackle Brandon Shell possesses. He was a standout high school player, and will have every chance to earn the starting spot at left tackle this spring. He has supposedly had a good offseason so far, and has gotten stronger. If he's as good as the coaches say, he'll help shore up a line that has to replace two starters, including left tackle Rokevious Watkins.

All eyes on: Quarterback Connor Shaw saw vast improvements in his game as the 2011 season went on. He started to develop into more of a passer than a runner. While he still likes to run at times, you could tell that Shaw was making a conscious effort to rely on his arm first. In his last three games, Shaw averaged 219 yards and threw eight touchdowns to one interception. Now is the time for him to really come into his own as a passer. For South Carolina's offense to be successful, Shaw has to play smarter, and has to boost the Gamecocks' passing game. He'll also need to create better chemistry with his unproven receivers. South Carolina's offensive players will feed off Shaw's spring.
Georgia and South Carolina held scrimmages Wednesday and the Gamecocks certainly excited their fans with some big plays on offense and defense.

With several thousand fans watching inside Williams-Brice Stadium, the Gamecocks reeled off a seven-touchdown performance. And things got off to a great start for the offense and quarterback Connor Shaw when he hit senior Jason Barnes on the first play of the game for a 70-yard score. Shaw later connected with freshman Damiere Byrd for an 80-yard touchdown. Shaw finished the scrimmage 6-for-11 passing for 192 yards and the two touchdowns before leaving the game with a right thumb injury.

Coach Steve Spurrier said he thinks Shaw's thumb might have hit someone's helmet during a play and should be fine.

“His thumb sort of popped out of joint briefly, but they got it back in," Spurrier said. "He says that’s happened before and it shouldn’t bother him. So hopefully he’ll be OK in two or three days, but we’ll just have to wait and see. But other than that, he threw some good long balls.”

Stephen Garcia completed 8 of 13 passes for 128 yards, including a 23-yard touchdown pass to receiver Ace Sanders. Sanders also threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to DeAngelo Smith.

“Stephen threw some good balls there at the end,” Spurrier said, “so we had some encouraging plays and we had some sorry plays also.”

South Carolina's defense recorded four turnovers Wednesday, including when Jadeveon Clowney picked up a Garcia fumble and returned it 22 yards for a touchdown.

Here is more information on the Gamecocks' scrimmage on South Carolina's official website. And here are some more notes.

GEORGIA

Even with running backs Isaiah Crowell and Richard Samuel out with injuries, the Bulldogs were able to hold their second preseason scrimmage Wednesday.

Former walk-on Brandon Harton led all rushers with 51 yards on 12 carries, and Ken Malcome registered 10 yards on five carries, while working with the first team.

In the passing game, Aaron Murray completed 11 of 16 passes for 108 yards, with a touchdown and an interception, while Hutson Mason hit 13 of 27 passes for 125 yards.

"I thought it was a pretty good scrimmage," Murray said. "The offense made a lot of plays here and there. There were some lulls, but that's going to happen. I'm very proud of both sides of the ball and how they played today."

As the Bulldogs search for another receiving threat outside of receiver Tavarres King and tight end Orson Charles, they got some solid play out of receiver Rantavious Wooten, who caught five passes for 61 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown. Israel Troupe also had five receptions for 50 yards.

Defensively, linebacker Alec Ogletree led the team in tackles for the second consecutive scrimmage, notching eight, including a sack and tackle for loss.

"'Tree' is playing good," coach Mark Richt said. "He's playing fast and physical. He likes football and has had a very good camp. I don't have any doubt it was the best move for him and for Georgia."

Safety Shawn Williams recorded seven tackles, and cornerback Bacarri Rambo registered six tackles and an interception.

You can read more about Georgia's scrimmage on the team's official website.
Spring practice is all about working the kinks out and getting guys back into the regular football flow.

It's also time for some of the more unheralded players to try and make a name for themselves.

Four springs are in the books in the SEC, and here are some under-the-radar guys who came up big:

Florida

QB Tyler Murphy -- He wasn’t even the favorite to be the No. 2 quarterback in Gainesville, but had the best spring game of the quarterbacks and improved mightily. Murphy finished with a game-high 68 yards and a touchdown on 7-of-11 passing.

WR Quinton Dunbar -- Coach Will Muschamp said Dunbar made the biggest plays in practice this spring. He had two catches for 45 yards, including a 29-yard catch-and-run in Florida’s spring game.

LSU

WR Kadron Boone -- Boone showed he has the speed and athleticism to be a threat in the Tigers’ offense. He’s unproven, but had a solid spring. Boone finished LSU’s spring game with a game-high four catches for 77 yards.

CB Tharold Simon -- Throughout the spring, Simon drew praise from coach Les Miles, who said he’s competing for regular time in LSU’s cornerback rotation. Though he recorded just one tackle in the spring game, he kept some of the tightest coverage on the field.

Mississippi State

QB Dylan Favre -- The redshirt freshman went 17-of-26 passing for 199 yards, with a touchdown and an interception, and also carried the ball 10 times for a game-high 41 yards in the Bulldogs’ spring game. Chris Relf is the starter, but Favre provides some nice depth at the position.

WR Robert Johnson -- Johnson made strides as a part of Mississippi State’s talent receiving corps. He led all receivers with seven receptions during the spring game and finished with 74 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown.

South Carolina

WR DeAngelo Smith -- South Carolina was looking for some big-play ability to complement Alshon Jeffery and might have found it in Smith. He was named the offensive player of the spring for the Gamecocks and caught three touchdowns in the spring game. One went for 62 yards.

OL A.J. Cann -- The redshirt freshman entered the spring as the No. 2 left guard, but also pushed for time at right guard. He could be a viable option at either position for the Gamecocks.

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