We're now several practices into fall camp, and some legitimate themes are beginning to emerge from the practices. Take what I'm about to write with a grain of salt, as it's comprised of little more than random observations from listening to post-practice interviews, but here are some of my thoughts on what's happening at the Proving Grounds thus far.
So far, so good. I really can't think of a year when there's been less drama and more positive energy coming out of camp. Reports about performance were strong in 2010, but then the Whitney mess emerged. There was a lot of fanfare heading into 2011, but Alshon Jeffery was reportedly overweight and Stephen Garcia was coming off suspension and was struggling with his accuracy. This year, the coverage from the national media surrounding the team seems a little quieter than it did last year despite our higher preseason ranking, but all the news out of camp seems very positive. Spurrier seems stoked about the team, and many of the question marks seem to be being answered. The only drama thus far has involved a fourth-string QB. It's hard to make too much out of camp performances, particularly at this early point, but I'm getting a very good feeling about the team this year. All signs point to us putting a solid product on the field.
This is probably going to be our best year under Spurrier in the quarterbacking department. Spurrier has effusively praised the progress made by Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson. Of course, Spurrier has never been one to blow smoke about his team's performance, and he's particularly quick to call out his quarterbacks in the media. Therefore, I feel confident that what he's saying about Shaw and Thompson is absolutely true. That means that this might finally be the year when we see the dazzling passing game we yearned for when Spurrier was hired. Granted, that will require not only strong QB play but also for all the other pieces to come together. Moreover, with Marcus Lattimore at tailback, we have every reason to be a run-first team. Still, I'm getting really giddy about our passing game.
There's hope at receiver. Coming into camp, receiver was the big question mark for the offense. We knew Ace Sanders is good, but who would help him? Damiere Byrd has emerged as the second-best threat on the team and has the look of someone who can really help us. Reportedly, our DBs just can't handle his speed in one-on-one situations. Granted, Byrd practiced well last fall before struggling a bit on the field, so he'll need to get it done on gameday, but he should be more focused this year without the suspension to worry about. The other good news is that Shaq Roland is beginning to play like we thought he would when we signed him. By midseason, I think these three will form a solid receiving corps for Carolina. Rory Anderson and Jerrell Adams also have the look of All-SEC TEs, and I'm looking forward to seeing us get them on the field at the same time.
Mixed news in the defensive backfield. The good news is that Victor Hampton is getting rave reviews and projects to play at an All-SEC level if he can maintain focus and play within the scheme. The bad news (maybe the principal bad news to come out of camp thus far) is that we're getting hit by injuries at a position where depth is a concern. Rico McWilliams is out for the year, and--yep, you guessed it--Akeem Auguste has suffered a minor groin injury. He's day to day right now, which may not sound that bad, but this guy has simply been unable to stay off the injured list over the course of his career, so any injury is bad news for him. It's easy to lack confidence in his ability to stay healthy all year. If he can't go, Carolina will have to rely on either Ahmad Christian or Jimmy Legree to take his place. I'm not completely confident in either at this point, although Legree has gotten some positive press. He's a better corner than safety, so don't let memories of his uneven play at safety early last season worry you too much.
Needless to say, there's more going on, but these are some of the things that are jumping out at me for the time being.