South Carolina returns three experienced, SEC-caliber tailbacks this fall: Mike Davis, Brandon Wilds, and Shon Carson. Davis was considered an outside contender for the Heisman Trophy in 2013 before seeing his production drop off late in the season due to injuries. Wilds spent a large portion of 2013 sidelined with injuries but was effective when healthy and shined as a starter in 2011 after Marcus Lattimore went down with his first knee injury. Carson has had fewer opportunities than Davis or Wilds but had a notably strong game against Florida last year, a performance that included a game-changing 50+ yard run out of Carolina end zone.
None of these players, though, will be the focal point for fans during this year's spring ball. As far as I'm concerned, I just hope they get through the spring injury free. The player I'm watching is redshirt freshman David Williams.
As we all know, Williams was a highly recruited back out of Pennsylvania who chose Carolina over notable offers from Ohio St., Auburn, and others. He is noted for his top-end speed and could have easily started early in many lower-tier programs. However, given Carolina's stable of excellent backs, Williams was redshirted in 2013.
Williams remains an underdog to beat out Davis or Wilds in 2014, both likely NFL Draft selections. As we've seen in abundance in recent years, though, tailback is a position where teams suffer frequent injuries. Wilds spent significant time in 2011 starting despite entering the season as the fourth back. Now that Williams has taken his redshirt year, he will need to be ready to play if his number is called. What's more, given his high-end speed (he's the fastest player on the team other than Damiere Byrd), Williams could find his way onto the field as a home-run threat even if Davis and Wilds are able to stay healthy throughout the year.
What to watch for this spring? First of all, what kind of power does Williams show after his first year in the weight room at Carolina? After relying on his athletic gifts as a high schooler, Williams must now work to build his frame in order to be able to withstand the beating backs take in the SEC. Second of all, can he block and catch well enough to be an every-down back? While he's demonstrated his running ability in high school, he needs to show that he's rounded out his game so that he can be relied upon if Davis and Wilds go down, as well as in 2015 when Davis will likely be gone to the NFL.