After multiple weather delays and a week-long respite during South Carolina's spring break, the Gamecocks finally began football practice in earnest on Tuesday. Though another bout of inclement weather resulted in the session being moved indoors and closed to fans and media, a few South Carolina coaches, including the Head Ball Coach himself, shared their thoughts about the first proper day of spring practice.
The most significant piece of information offered by Steve Spurrier was that redshirt junior Mike Matulis is working at right guard. "Mike is playing at one of the guard spots right now," Spurrier said. "The guard spot that Ronald Patrick played is available, so he's vying for that."
Matulis missed all of 2013 and most of 2012 after having surgery on both shoulders. I wrote this in June of 2013 about the outlook for his collegiate career:
Matulis has shown that, when healthy, he can be an above-average contributor at a variety of positions on the offensive line. But staying healthy has been a struggle, and when you're an offensive lineman trying to bounce back from surgeries on both shoulders, you're fighting an uphill battle.
When he got injured last year, offensive line coach Shawn Elliott did not come off as particularly optimistic about his his long-term prognosis, and Steve Spurrier hinted many times during fall practice at the possibility of the true junior redshirting in 2013 or leaving the team altogether so that he can avoid further damage to his shoulders.
Given how dire this situation seemed a year ago, the fact that Matulis has worked his way back to the conversation at multiple positions on the offensive line (he's listed as a backup right tackle on the spring depth chart) is just short of a miracle.
Na'Ty Rodgers, Cody Waldrop, Will Sport, and D.J. Park were previously listed, in that order -- with an OR between Rodgers and Waldrop -- as the top candidates to replace Ronald Patrick in 2014. Matulis' entry into the competition, if nothing else, adds some depth to the offensive line rotation.
When asked about the decision to list Ali Groves atop the cornerback depth chart, defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward offered a reminder that spring depth charts are rather arbitrary and non-binding documents.
Ali, really, is listed [as No. 1 cornerback], but we started practice with Sidney [Rhodes] at one corner, and Rico [McWilliams] was starting at the other. Ali is doing a lot of reps without physical contact because he can't get his shoulder hit. That's just the way that Coach [Grady] Brown listed them.
As part of the ongoing effort to cultivate much-needed depth at cornerback, Ward stayed true to his expressed interest in cross-training senior safety Brison Williams at multiple positions. "[Brison] is playing both," Ward said. "He goes with the ones at safety, and then he'll take a little break and play some corner with the twos."
If you're expecting this to culminate in Williams moving from safety to cornerback, stop it. The most likely upshot of this experiment is that South Carolina develops senior safety with more tightly refined covers skills, should they be needed in dime packages. Groves, who is recovering from shoulder surgery, should be able to resume contact at some point this spring, and South Carolina will be receiving much-needed cornerback reinforcements this fall.
Mohamed Camara entered spring practiced listed fifth on the SPUR depth chart. Linebackers coach Kirk Botkin had this to say about the redshirt freshman:
Physically, he's very gifted. He's a really strong kid. He does a lot of good things with his hands. He lines up on the tight end and beats him up and does some really good things. Just playing assignment football is going to be the biggest thing and learning the playbook.
Redshirt sophomore Kyle Fleetwood is listed one spot ahead of Camara.
Right now he's 225 lbs. We talked to him about maybe playing a little bit of WILL linebacker. Right now he's playing SPUR and coming along and doing some good things. He's coming from the back end and playing safety -- that's where a lot of the the SPURs come from -- so he's got the ability to understand a little more about what's going on around him. Plus got a little bit better coverage skills than maybe some of the other guys.
Lorenzo Ward noted that Jonathan Walton is working full-time at weakside linebacker and that Marcquis Roberts is doing the same at middle linebacker. When asked what Skai Moore, the returning starter at weakside linebacker, had to improve upon in 2014, Botkin said, "Just little things. Fundamentals. Last year, just disguising and understanding where your help is coming from. Just the little things."
Botkin said that Moore won the eventually won the starting role in 2013 because he "progressed throughout the year and eventually earned his way. And he did that by showing up at practice ever day and doing his job and working," Botkin said.
"It's his job to lose right now."
Steve Spurrier, asked about a potential early signing period for college football:
I like what we're doing now -- always have. I think the ability for guys to change their mind until February is smart. A lot of stuff happens throughout the course of the season. Coaches get fired, and stuff happens. They may want to change their mind.
Spurrier also said, "Jody Fuller had his best practice ever as a Gamecock. He caught a bunch of passes and blocked a little bit... Kane Whitehurst sprained his foot a little bit, I think."
Lorenzo Ward acknowledged what most of us probably could have guessed when he said, "Abu [Lamin] is real strong, real powerful. He's got a great punch. He's just got to learn what we're doing, but he's got a lot of promise."