SEC: Lamar Scruggs

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.
Believe it or not, Alshon Jeffery didn’t catch all of the 252 completions by South Carolina passers last season. And chances are that he won’t come close to catching all the completions the Gamecocks have this fall, either.

[+] EnlargeAce Sanders
Dale Zanine/US PresswireAce Sanders is among the receivers USC will use to take pressure off No. 1 wideout Alshon Jeffery.
Jeffery is human and the Gamecocks have more weapons in the receiving corps. They might not be as big and intimidating, but they have the skill to frustrate opposing defenses this fall.

“We’ve got plenty of guys other than Alshon,” coach Steve Spurrier said.

Those weapons are smaller -- some are much smaller -- but have a little extra quickness and speed to make them dynamic options in the passing game.

The 5-foot-7, 175-pound Ace Sanders returns as the second-leading wide receiver on the team. The sophomore, who reported to Columbia last season at a mere 160 pounds, recorded 25 catches for 316 yards and two touchdowns last season. He’s a speedster in the slot and understands that it’s time for other receiving threats to take pressure off Jeffery and running back Marcus Lattimore in order to keep the offense less predictable.

“There are going to be a lot of double-teams on Alshon, stacking the box on Lattimore,” Sanders said. “Somebody has to step up and I look at myself to be that person to step up.”

Sanders won’t be alone. He’s actually taken it upon himself to make sure he isn’t. During the offseason, Sanders worked with fifth-year senior Jason Barnes, who moved to the “Z” receiver. Barnes had never played there, so Sanders tutored him on it, improving his route running and coming out of breaks.

Another player making strides has been sophomore Lamar Scruggs, who caught just three passes last season. He has elevated his practice play and was even publicly complimented by Spurrier and given the practice ball one day after he made a couple of diving catches on plays.

But two players who could really have an impact on this offense and Bruce Ellington and true freshman Damiere Byrd.

For you basketball fans out there, Ellington’s name should ring a bell or two. He was the starting point guard for the Gamecocks last season, leading the team with 12.8 points per game. He approached basketball coach Darrin Horn about playing football and once he was given approval, he met with Spurrier.

Per NCAA rules, he wasn’t allowed to participate in spring football practice, but returned from the summer with his playbook almost memorized, and while he hasn’t played football since high school Spurrier admired the 5-foot-9, 197-pound athlete’s quickness and called him “a natural.”

As for Byrd, he was a track star in high school, winning the indoor 60-meter dash at nationals as a senior and being clocked at 10.36 in the 100m. He also represented the US at a track event in Japan this spring.

He’s very slender, barely touching 167 on a scale, but the 5-foot-9 Byrd expects his speed to give him an advantage.

“Speed really helps me with my size,” he said. “If a guy really kind of gets a hold of me, it’s definitely not going to be in my favor. With the speed, I’ll usually be able to get around him and make plays.”

South Carolina’s interior receivers aren’t expecting to win wrestling matches, but they do intend to get by opponents.

Sanders said his extra bulk gives him more confidence to go out and be physical with defenders, but when it comes to lining up against linebackers he suggests he and his fellow miniature receivers let their feet do the work.

“If he [the linebacker] misses at the line, then nine times out of 10 we’re open,“ he said, “so all we have to do is make the play.”



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