"When Connor [Shaw] is healthy, Connor is our starting quarterback."
With that, South Carolina quarterback coach G.A. Mangus brought the South Carolina quarterback battle into focus.
Shaw missed all of spring practice recovering from offseason foot surgery, opening the door for Dylan Thompson to enter his name into the race for the top spot on the Gamecock depth chart.
Shaw, a 6'1", 209-pound senior from Flowery Branch, Ga., boasts a gleaming 17-3 career record as a starter in Columbia, but the dual-threat star has had trouble staying on the field.
He injured his shoulder in last season's opener versus Vanderbilt, forcing him to miss South Carolina's Week 2 win over East Carolina. His sprained foot forced him out of the Gamecocks' regular-season finale against Clemson and ultimately led to his absence from spring practice.
That's not a concern for Mangus, who knows what kind of quarterback he has when Shaw is healthy.
"He's earned that right," Mangus said. "The record speaks for itself. Obviously this spring, Dylan got all the reps, and that was really a blessing in disguise. I don't know if Connor really needed those 15 practices. That's not when he's going to get himself ready to play."
With the SEC being a quarterback-driven conference in 2013, it's easy for Shaw's success to get lost in the rather large shadows cast by three-time BCS National Champion AJ McCarron and Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.
"It's easy to get overlooked," Mangus said. "But that's fine and plays into his personality. It doesn't really bother him, it fuels him. I like those guys to have a little chip on their shoulders."
But Thompson will get his chances.
In two games as starter in 2012, the more traditional drop-back quarterback performed well, throwing for 640 yards, six touchdowns and only one interception, giving the coaches confidence that he can be successful if and when he's called upon this season.
Shaw and Thompson successfully shared time under center in South Carolina's 33-28 win over Michigan in the Outback Bowl, creating a "rich man's problem" in Columbia.
"Spring worked out in our favor getting the reps for the younger guys," Mangus said. "We got more more experience with Dylan and, most importantly, we built more confidence with Dylan that he can get the job done when called upon."
How will Thompson fit into the game plan if Shaw is healthy? That part of the equation is still up in the air.
"If both are playing, I think it makes our team better," Mangus said. "There are some things that we can do [with both], and we'll talk about that over the summer. A lot of that depends on how Connor progresses with his foot."
Despite the differences in style, the playbook won't change all that much depending on who's taking the snaps.
"On the surface everybody thinks that Dylan is a passer and Connor is a runner," Mangus said. "The reality is that Connor is a lot better passer than anybody gives him credit for and Dylan is a lot better runner than anybody gives him credit for. They're both good at both, and give us the chance to call very similar offenses. We won't have to alter the game plan."
It's going to be Shaw's show this fall if he can stay healthy, but Thompson showed last season and this spring that he has what it takes to lead the team at a high level. That's a coach's dream.
Both are going to play. Ideally for the Gamecocks, though, Shaw will close out his career building on his already sparkling legacy.
"He is 17-3 as a starter at South Carolina, and the school record is 24 wins." Mangus said. "When all is said and done down the road 20 years from now, I think people will look back fondly at Connor Shaw."
*Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.
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