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QBs and Backfield: 5 Burning Questions Going Into the 2012 Season

We enter the season brimming with confidence in our starters at QB and RB, and that’s a good feeling. The only battles we’ll see are for back-up roles. Let’s all take a moment to appreciate that. Since we’re a run-first operation these days, it’s imperative we’re deep and healthy. To that end, let’s address a few lingering questions regarding our quarterbacks and our backfield.

5. Who’s behind Connor?

Gone is Stephen Garcia, scraggly ne’er-do-well who excelled and frustrated in equal measure (perhaps the scale tips just a wee bit towards the latter.) I’ll miss Captain Brahsome for all he was--anti-golden boy, raging bull, media straight shooter--but the fact that Connor Shaw is bizarro-Garcia in most ways is a welcomed change.

Read on after the jump!

Connor may have the keys to the Camaro, but no team can operate comfortably without contingency. It’s an especially exigent issue when dealing with a scrambling quarterback who stands to take hits. If Connor has to sit out a series (or, perish the thought, a game or games) who’s going to step in? Right now, it’s sophomore Dylan Thompson. Like most of our signal callers not named Connor Shaw, Thompson’s gametime experience is severely limited. Dylan appeared in four games last year, most notably in knife-twisting duty against Kentucky. Spurrier’s high on Thompson, but not without expressing trepidation at his lack of experience. Our depth chart is rounded out by Seth Strickland, Andrew “Urged to Transfer” Clifford, Tanner McEvoy and incoming freshman Brendan Nosovitch, likely to redshirt. (Note: Apparently we only recruit quarterbacks with stereotypically suburban first names.)

Like most of you, I’m intrigued by McEvoy. The 6’6” project threw a couple of TDs in the spring game, but aside from that, there’s been precious little chatter. McEvoy’s currently fourth on the depth chart--not exactly a meteoric rise. Might he eventually transition to wide receiver, the position at which he spent most of his high school career? That’s speculation, but with Shaw likely to be at the helm for the next two seasons and Connor 2.0 (Mitch) coming to campus in 2013, you wonder how many snaps McEvoy stands to take. By all accounts, he’s too good an athlete to languish in a QB logjam, so lets hope he either gets his shot or we can utilize him elsewhere, lest he be tempted to seek greener pastures.

4. Will Shaw develop as a pocket passer?

As with many young scramblers, the knock on Shaw is a perceived lack of pocket presence. I tend to think this is vastly overstated. His presence certainly developed as the year wore on, as evinced by his three long-tosses against Clemson and Nebraska, each of which saw him allowing a play to develop while he stood ground amidst the swirl of encroaching defenders.

But it’s hard to argue that Connor Shaw isn’t viewed as a pesky, run-first QB. I imagine Vandy’s planning for a hefty dose of read options and bootlegs.

This is likely why Connor spent time during the off-season developing his pocket play. I could pluck and repurpose every tidbit from the March Post and Courier article on Shaw’s pocket work, or I could just link it here.

Read about his study of Saints quarterback Drew Brees, a Shaw-sized player who’s established himself as one of the most dominant pocket passers in the NFL. Brees can scramble just fine, but it’s his ability to maintain pocket presence that has him setting records. If Shaw develops into a bona fide two-pronged QB behind what looks to be a formidable O-line, it could translate to tasty numbers.

3. Will Latty be Latty?

This is more of a rhetorical discussion than fact-based speculation. But will the Marcus Lattimore be able to conjure his 2010 and the first half of 2011 magic?

To paraphrase Patton Oswalt, my knowledge of science essentially ends at “salt is salty,” so I can’t claim any expertise here. My research has revealed that rehab time from an ACL tear is anywhere from seven months to one year. Our opening game is a little over 10 months removed from Marcus’ injury, and all reports from players and coaches alike indicate Marcus will be ready to go for fall practice. You have to believe Marcus’ knee received about as much attention during the last year as any in the world, so I’m cautiously optimistic.

Need some comfort reading? Check out a post at SB Nation Philadelphia Eagles blog, Bleeding Green Nation from a few years ago. They provide a list of ten prominent players who successfully returned from ACL tears, many of whom are backs. Willis McGehee’s numbers were particularly inspiring, since we all remember his utterly gruesome injury in the 2003 National Championship game.

My hope is that Coaches Sands and Spurrier exercise extreme caution with Marcus in the early part of the season. He can accrue his big numbers once it’s clear he’s fully operational. Until then, rely on the depth. Speaking of which...

2. Miles? Wilds? Etc.?

Similar to our situation at quarterback, there’s some ambiguity behind our clear number one. But unlike quarterback, our backups have balled hard in big games. Take Kenny Miles, noted Clemmy troll who's become a beloved figure in Columbia. A fifth year senior who’s got three 100-yard games under his belt, he's a mere 18 yards shy of 1,000 for his career. There was some question as to whether Kenny would return for his senior season, but it’s all but certain he’ll be wear Garnet this fall, especially after earning Offensive Player of the Spring honors.

You’ll remember Brandon Wilds as one of the best stories of the 2011 team, pressed into action after the four (FOUR!) players ahead of him on the depth charts went down. Not only is it a terrific story in and of itself, but it provides invaluable motivation for all our reserves. After logging three 100-yard games (Tennessee, Florida, Citadel), Wilds cooled a bit and gave way to Kenny Miles’ late-season outburst. Still, Wilds is an eminently viable option at back and looks to get plenty of reps. Shon Carson returns from injury as well, and could see the field. Did you know Carson is one of three SC high schoolers to score 100 touchdowns? He is. (Demetris Summers and Marcus Lattimore are the other two. Oh Demetris. What could have been!)

Mike Davis and Kendric Salley land on campus as true freshmen, and both could redshirt, but look for Davis to make a case for early playing time. After all, he rivals Shaq Roland as our top-rated incoming recruit. Indeed, we’re not lacking for options at tailback, and it’s a good problem to have.

1. How will Qua Gilchrist transition to fullback?

Yeah, it’s a little bit of a dull note on which to end this post, but it’s worth a look. We all fondly remember Patrick DiMarco and his ability to throw a block one play, and then take a play action bootleg in for six on the next. Can Gilchrist rekindle that magic? Qua replaces Matt Coffee, who hung up his cleats due to a chronic knee injury. Qua transitions from linebacker, a role in which he made little to no impact. Gilchrist put up numbers as a tailback in high school, so he’s got offensive experience on a smaller scale. But his order is a tall one--block for an All American running back--so here’s hoping he can prove more productive than he did on defense. If Gilchrist struggles, it’s conceivable that Justice Cunningham could be called on to shoulder the burden, as we’ve seen him get a few backfield looks. Anyway, yeah, sorry. Told you it was dull. Qua!