Under a sunny sky the South Carolina Gamecocks got a new football season on top of new digs underway.
Steve Spurrier, entering his 11th season as head man in Columbia, started spring practice today with a celebratory green collard shirt on and luckily his team got off to a good start. "I think we had a pretty good first day," said Spurrier. "The guys seemed a little faster and quicker this time of year, which is normal. We're out here running plays, trying to get guys lined up. We've got a lot of new players we all know. They showed a lot of hustle and effort."
The start of spring practice also means the start of the critical quarterback battle that'll hopefully work itself out this spring and summer. HBC liked how his QBs threw the ball today in their first practice of the year. "I think Connor Mitch threw the ball around pretty well," said Spurrier. "He and Perry Orth, they did well."
Another storyline this offseason will be the weapons the Gamecock QB will have to throw to. We all know Pharoh Cooper and what he can do but who will emerge by the numbers around him is key. Deebo Samuel seems destined to be the player fans fall in love during these off-season months. Coaches have been impressed by what they have seen from Samuel as well as tight end K.C. Crosby. "The receivers caught most of them, but dropped a few," Spurrier noted after practice. "Pharoh Cooper is the only receiver who has played quite a bit, so they'll be a lot of new faces at wide receiver."
The offense usually draws the headlines but for this program and the season it's coming off, many eyes will be on the defense. Jon Hoke made his on-field coaching debut and Lorenzo Ward said after practice that he, Hoke, and the rest of the defensive staff were getting along great while the defensive planning was also going smoothly.
The defense lacked a pass rush last season and Ward acknowledged the benefit pressure can have for a defense. "We'll only be as good as we are up front," Ward said after practice. "We'll try to get the front seven better. If we're better up front, we'll be better on the perimeter."
A couple of the players tagged with improving that pressure missed practice today. Darius English had class so he missed practice but newcomer Dexter Wideman was absent because he had missed too much class, according to Coach Spurrier. The secondary, also an eye sore last season, was missing a player for the same reason. Wesley Green missed practice because of his class absences as well. "When you miss class around here, they don't let you practice," Spurrier said. "We enforce going to class and they missed too many."
Hoke acknowledged a position change he is experimenting with at the moment. It involves trying Jordan Diggs at safety and TJ Gurley at Spur. Gurley has been a safety his whole time in Columbia and Diggs seemed set to split reps at Spur with Larenz Bryant as spring practice approached. Maybe something beneficial will come from Hoke's first mad scientist impression but for now it's a wait-and-see operation.
Bryant, who now is splitting reps with Gurley at Spur, was caught up in a scary moment today in practice. He collided with Chris Moody, suffering a stomach injury and was taken off the field in an ambulance. He was able to move everything but seemed very groggy. Ward said Bryant was taken away because of severe pain and to make sure he hadn't torn or broken anything in the area where he was hit. No word at the moment on Bryant's condition but we're obviously praying for positives.
The Gamecocks were in helmets and shorts while Brandon Shell, Muke Matulis, Taylor Stallworth, and Sherrod Pittman wore the yellow jerseys while out. Shell (shoulder), Matulis (knee), and Stallworth (pectoral) all had surgeries this off-season and will miss spring practice. Pittman, an early enrollee, is still recovering from a broken leg he suffered during his senior year.
Coach Spurrier expects Wideman to return from his punishment during the Gamecocks next practice but didn't mention Green and his availability. South Carolina returns to practice at 4 p.m. on Thursday, a session that is closed to the public.