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South Carolina Gamecocks Spring Practice: Five Players I'm Watching

Spring practice gives us an opportunity to take a closer look at likely new contributors.

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

The spring practice depth chart is out. That means its time to start thinking about some of the new faces we're likely to see on Saturdays next fall. Who am I going to be watching? Read on to find out who and why.

Na'Ty Rodgers. Rodgers is listed as the either/or starter at right guard along with Cody Waldrop. Waldrop is listed as the either/or starter at center along with Clayton Stadnick. Waldrop is probably the one out of this three who is most likely to maintain a starting spot, with how Rodgers does in the coming months likely to determine whether we're looking at a Stadnick/Waldrop or a Waldrop/Rodgers duo at the two positions. The coaches like Rodgers physically; he's ready to go in that regard. The question is whether he's mastered his assignments. If so, he should start opposite A.J. Cann and follow in Cann's footsteps as the next All-SEC-level guard at Carolina. The coaches have been extremely high on him ever since he arrived.

Phillip Dukes. Dukes, as you may recall, was a highly rated DT out of Manning High in 2011. He didn't make a lot of noise in his first two seasons at Carolina, as he needed time to acclimate to college ball and was buried on the depth chart. He was named most improved defensive lineman in the 2013 spring game, though. Late last season, we began to see even more of why he was considered a promising prospect when he played well against Mississippi St., Florida, and even got a start against Coastal Carolina. With Kelcy Quarles gone, Dukes is listed as the starter beside J.T. Surratt. Kelsey Griffin may give him a push, but at a position where physical maturity is very important, the 6'3 320+ Dukes currently has the advantage.

Darius English. English is currently listed as the starting weak-side end. He's shown promise as a situational pass rusher with good moves off the edge and the speed to get to the quarterback. However, the question is his weight. He's now up to 235, which is an improvement on last year, but he needs to keep working hard in the strength-and-conditioning program to get to the size he needs to be at to be a reliable run-stopper in the SEC. I'm curious to see how his slight increase in his size translates to the field this year, as well as if he continues to fill out over the summer. With Dante Sawyer heading to JUCO and Dexter Wideman still having work to do to qualify, we may be relying heavily upon English to be a much more reliable down-to-down player than he was a year ago. End is a major question mark for Carolina right now, so it would be nice for English to inspire some confidence with his spring play.

Ali Groves. Groves is listed as the starter at corner opposite Rico McWilliams. It goes without saying that increased competition will be arriving at this position when our several highly touted true freshmen arrive on campus in the summer, but for the spring we're getting a look at current players. Groves, a RS frosh out of Stephenson, GA, is one of those players. Unfortunately, he's currently recovering from shoulder surgery after an injury suffered late in the season, so he may be limited during practices. If we get to see him, though, we'll hopefully see why the coaches are high on his coverage and general athletic abilities. Needless to say, it's important to learn whether we can rely on the corners other than McWilliams to play serious snaps, or whether we're going to be forced to rush an incoming freshman into a starting role whether ready or not.

Jamari Smith. Smith is listed as Groves's backup. Smith has moved back and forth between tailback and corner since arriving at Carolina last fall. He ended last season at tailback and had an impressive 100-yard performance against Coastal. He's back at corner now, though, as he and the coaches agree that given our young roster at the position, corner is where he's most likely to be able to help us in the short term. Smith is another athletic player, and he brings a powerful 5'10 / 200 frame to the position, making him a decent choice to line up across from physical receivers. As with Groves, we'll want to see if he's going to be able to help us address perceived deficiencies at corner.