ORLANDO, FL - JANUARY 02: Connor Shaw #14 of the South Carolina Gamecocks passes during the Capitol One Bowl against the Nebraska Cornhuskers at Florida Citrus Bowl on January 2, 2012 in Orlando, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
I'll have to admit that, as usual, I'm somewhat ambivalent about the spring game, which will take place today at 1:00 PM. On the one hand, it's a fun experience for the fans who make it out. You get in a little enjoyment at the stadium at a time when everyone is itching for football. On the other hand, the game itself is usually pretty uninteresting. Due to injury concerns, the top players don't spend much time on the field, and while they're in, the play-calling is as vanilla as it gets. Once the third- and fourth-strings are in, the game can be exciting at times, and there's usually a player or two who has a nice performance. Sometimes that player ends up having an impact in the fall, but usually not.
The practices leading up to the game are usually also pretty uninteresting. The coaches seem to view them principally as an opportunity to see which of the previous year's backups are ready for a bigger role, which is important, but again, you generally don't get as much information about the key players as you'd like. This is particularly true because just about any player with the slightest of injuries is out. Many key players didn't see much or any of the field this spring, including Marcus Lattimore, Shon Carson, Akeem Auguste, D.J. Swearinger, Shamier Jeffery, Mike Matulis, and others.
All that said, there are a few things you can watch out for tomorrow. I won't promise you'll see anything interesting on any of these scores, but these points top my list:
--Connor Shaw. He won't be in the game long, but I'll be curious to see if his pocket presence has continued to improve. Of course, the likelihood of us doing anything remotely interesting with the pass rush is nill, so it might be hard to get a good look at this. If that's the case, let's just hope we see some accurate passes and few mental mistakes.
--Dylan Thompson and Seth Strickland. This might be the best part of the game. Not that I think either of these guys will see a meaningful snap next year unless Shaw goes down, but these are the current candidates for backup QB, with Thompson currently in the lead. My understanding is that Thompson is the much better athlete, while Strickland has a better grasp of the offense but lacks a legitimate SEC arm. I'll be curious to see how they perform.
--Wide receiver play. One of the biggest story lines this spring has been our difficulty in finding a good replacement for Alshon Jeffery. Ace Sanders is entrenched in the slot and looks to be our best receiver, but who replaces Jeffery's production on the outside? There are a host of candidates, including the injured younger Jeffery. It would be nice to see one or two of those guys step up. Of course, Shaq Roland might be the guy by mid-season.
--Bruce Ellington. I expect a more experienced Ellington to have a bigger role in the offense next year. I'm curious to see if we get a chance to look at his role tomorrow, although the fact that we'll probably throw the ball nine out of ten plays will mean that we won't run much wildcat.
--Secondary. With Swearinger and Auguste out, we will get to see some of our younger guys line up across from our top receivers. I've heard particularly good things about Victor Hampton, who looked good at times last year and needs to become a shut-down guy this fall. Would love to see him and others play well for an inexperienced unit.
--Linebacker. Something of a position of weakness early last year, we got better throughout the year as Shaq Wilson returned to form and Reginald Bowens grew into his role. DeMario Jeffery has also reportedly improved this off-season. Again, the scheme will be vanilla, so while Lorenzo Ward will be more aggressive than Ellis Johnson, don't expect to see anything wild tomorrow. However, I am curious to see how this group does.
Well, that's more or less a wrap on this one. Enjoy the game, folks. Just don't put too much stock in what happens.