South Carolina started their third week of spring practice Tuesday afternoon as they got underway of the team's ninth practice of the spring session.
After last weekend's practice and scrimmage, we are past halfway of the 15 spring workouts for the Gamecocks. The most surprising thing? Head coach Steve Spurrier continues to be pleased with his quarterbacks. Despite rocky stretches with his signal callers during his days in Columbia, the Head Ball Coach has spent most of this spring complimenting his crop now. That continued Tuesday after practice.
"All three quarterbacks threw pretty well," Spurrier said when asked about the practice. "They threw some good ones today in the windy conditions. All three of them are rotating in right now. They're all doing well." From hearing Spurrier talk thus far, it seems like Connor Mitch is the leader in the quarterback battle. He entered the spring No. 1 on the depth chart but if you watch practice, it's not easy to say Mitch is the assumed starter at this point. Mitch and his competitors, Perry Orth and Michael Scarnecchia, have taken equal snaps in each practice. Each of the three also took similar reps in the first scrimmage of the spring this past weekend.
While Spurrier likes what he saw from the QBs, he did admit that it wasn't an all-around great day for his offense. "The protection broke down at the end," Spurrier said after practice. "The defense got the best of the offense today."
That defense is going through a scheme transition this offseason thanks to the hiring of co-defensive coordinator Jon Hoke. His partner-in-crime, fellow co-DC Lorenzo Ward, spoke after practice. "I think the guys have grasped for the most part everything we're doing in this system," Ward said of his personnel's progress in the new scheme. "Now we're just trying to fine-tune it. For the most part, the entire package is in."
After Saturday's closed scrimmage, we learned about the offense's performance in the simulation from Spurrier's media availability and the athletic department's stats but we weren't really provided any information on how the defense looked. Ward fixed that this afternoon. "Not bad," Ward said of his defense's performance after reviewing the tape. "I think we did some good things and we've got a lot of things we need to work on. I think the biggest thing that we talked about as a defensive staff is we've got to make sure players understand that each person has a responsibility in the system for the system to work. You have to do that. We've got to get everybody doing the right thing. It's small stuff, like leaving your gap too soon or poor alignment. It's little things, but little things get you beat."
Ward and defensive line coach Deke Adams have been impressed by one not so little thing during spring ball and that has been the development of defensive tackle Phillip Dukes. The redshirt senior has been around all of the Gamecock defensive lineman that have made their names in Columbia on the way to the NFL: Clowney, Ingram, Quarles. His time in the program, including his time around that heralded trio, has taught him what he needs to do this season. "Be a leader, step up, do everything they ask of me." Dukes said after practice. "I already know what to do and what's expected of me so I'm just trying to get it done." Dukes has spent time at both defensive tackle positions this spring, the nose tackle and the 3-technique. Last week, Adams said if Dukes loses 10-15 pounds, one of the starting DT spots is likely his. After practice, Duke revealed that he is currently hovering around 315 and 318 pounds but the goal is weighing in at 305. In his last season as a Gamecock, Dukes is doing all he can to shed that weight and earn a starting spot on the line. When asked if all the time he's spent here has prepared him for this season, he said, "Oh yeah, I know it's my time to step up. I'm just going to do everything I can to help my team."
The Gamecocks still have three practices left this week. Workouts on Thursday and Friday that are both closed, as well as another scrimmage Saturday that is only open to the media.