South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier wasted no time in naming a successor to Connor Shaw's throne, and it's a familiar face.
Dylan Thompson was named the Gamecocks' starting quarterback last month, putting to bed any questions under center heading into spring practice. The 6'3", 218-pound rising senior has served as Shaw's primary backup over the last two seasons and saw significant action over that time span with Shaw out due to injuries.
He threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns in the 2012 victory over intrastate rival Clemson and filled in admirably for Shaw in the comeback win over UCF in 2013, passing for 261 yards.
|Dylan Thompson Career Stats|
In his only start of the 2013 season, however, he struggled. He completed just 55.6 percent of his passes (15-of-27) and threw a pick against Missouri before an injured Shaw came in to lead the Gamecocks out of a 17-point hole to a double-overtime victory.
So what does Thompson have to work on this spring?
There's no doubt that Thompson can sling the ball around the field, but it doesn't always go where it should.
He has completed 55 percent of his passes (120-of-218) for his career and needs to get that closer to 60 percent if he's going to lead the Gamecocks to their first SEC East title since 2010. That got him into trouble in his biggest game of the 2013 season—the start against Missouri—and got him pulled in favor of Shaw, who was nursing a knee injury.
Does he need to be the most efficient passer in the SEC? No.
Shaw was efficient and used his legs to produce a dynamic ground game. With Thompson under center, the Gamecocks offense will be more traditional—establishing the run with Mike Davis and then stretching the field off play action.
With Shaq Roland emerging as a deep threat and Damiere Byrd returning in 2014, he's got options in the vertical passing game. That's great for Thompson because he has the big arm.
However, more downfield passes mean a slightly less efficient passing attack in general, which means Thompson only has to improve a little bit in the accuracy department to keep the offense cooking at a high level.
Establish a Connection
The world got to see just how good former Gamecock wide receiver Bruce Ellington was last season when he caught 49 passes for 775 yards and eight touchdowns. If that wasn't enough, his performance at the NFL scouting combine silenced any remaining doubters.
However, his absence in Columbia left a hole in the wide receiving corps and Thompson's primary goal this spring should be to find his successor.
Who will it be?
The smart money is on rising junior Roland. The former "Mr. Football" in the state of South Carolina in 2011 caught 25 passes for 455 yards and five touchdowns last season and came on strong down the stretch with 13 catches over the final three games of the season.
Whether it's Roland, Byrd or somebody else, Thompson needs to find "that guy." The one receiver he knows he can rely on in big spots. When he does, the rest of the personnel and the offensive scheme can fall into place.
For the first time in his career, Thompson looked uneasy in his start against Missouri. With only one year as the true starting quarterback in Columbia, it might be tempting for Thompson to press if things don't go his way either in practice or early in the season.
He can't let that happen.
It's a cliche—an often overused one—but Thompson does need to focus on "the process" this spring. He's already a proven quarterback, but there will be speed bumps along the way this offseason now that he's the unquestioned starter.
Thompson needs to own the position and, more importantly, be his own man. He's not Shaw, but he is stepping into Shaw's rather large shoes in Columbia. That can't be in any part of his mindset.
The Gamecocks are his team now and he needs to own it from the moment spring practice starts.
Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. All statistics are courtesy of CFBStats.com.