South Carolina Football: Top 6 Position Battles to Watch in Spring Practice
South Carolina begins spring practice on Tuesday, unless Monday's weather is exceptionally nice, and coach Steve Spurrier opts to go out a day early.
That has happened in the past, and that's just the way things go in the spring. The head coach has never been afraid to call an audible.
South Carolina returns eight of 11 starters on offense, but with Dylan Thompson all but entrenched to replace Connor Shaw at quarterback, the only battles of note there will be at wide receiver and guard.
Defense is wider open, with both defensive end spots, a defensive tackle spot and both starting cornerback positions available.
Of course, most of these battles will rage on into the fall, when a recruiting class that was designed to address immediate needs arrives.
The Gamecocks return starting tackle J.T. Surratt but lose All-American Kelcy Quarles.
Junior Phillip Dukes is listed as the starter at the other defensive tackle spot and is backed by sophomore Kelsey Griffin.
The most intriguing possibility is incoming JUCO transfer Abu Lamin. He was signed with immediate help in mind, so he'll get a long look. He's listed on the third team entering the spring.
Surratt's understudy Gerald Dixon Jr. is a junior who has played a lot of football for the Gamecocks, mostly in a reserve role.
Sophomore Deon Green could also be in the mix and possibly play his way into the rotation up front.
The loss of Jadeveon Clowney leaves a gaping hole at defensive end, but the Gamecocks must also replace Chaz Sutton, the other starting defensive end.
Most of the offseason buzz has centered on sophomore Darius English, who held his own while backing up Clowney last season.
He has already bulked up from 226 pounds to 244, and at 6'6'', he has room for more. He begins the spring listed as a starter.
Gerald Dixon—brother of Gerald Dixon Jr.—and Mason Harris should compete at the other defensive end spot, with Dixon holding the edge. He is listed as the starter after showing dramatic improvement last season. Like English, Harris needs to add weight.
Another interesting possibility is Cedric Cooper, who moved from linebacker to defensive end. He's listed as a backup to English.
The coaching staff will also get its first good look at redshirt freshman Devin Washington, who missed all of last season with a concussion, as well as redshirt freshman David Johnson.
They will all have to fend off the challenge from some talented defensive ends in the incoming recruiting class, but being penciled in as the starter after spring practice is a huge leg up.
Cornerback is South Carolina's biggest question area heading into the 2014 season.
The Gamecocks lost their top three corners, and only sophomore Rico McWilliams returns with much experience. He enters the spring listed as a starter at one corner.
The coaching staff is high on redshirt freshman Ali Groves, who is listed as the other starting corner. He will be limited in the spring while he recovers from shoulder surgery.
With an eye toward bumping up the numbers at that position, the Gamecocks have moved running back Jamari Smith to corner. He's listed as a backup to Groves, so he should get plenty of work.
Seldom-used seniors Ronnie Martin and Sidney Rhodes are listed as backups to McWilliams.
They will all be challenged in the fall by four incoming corner signees, and it's probably not an overstatement to say at least one starter—and possibly both—will come from those four.
Senior Dylan Thompson is a lock to replace Connor Shaw as the starting quarterback, but the battle for the backup spot should provide plenty of intrigue.
Coach Steve Spurrier doesn't have much patience with quarterbacks, and anyone playing No. 2 can count on getting some meaningful playing time next season.
Brendan Nosovitch, a 6'1'', 220-pound sophomore, played in a limited role as the third-team quarterback behind Shaw and Thompson. He is listed as No. 2 entering the spring.
The challenge will come from Connor Mitch, a 6'3'', 227-pound redshirt freshman.
This will be Mitch's second spring practice with the Gamecocks, and he should get every opportunity to win the backup role.
The Gamecocks must find a replacement for Ronald Patrick at right guard, but they have some talented backups who may be capable of filling that role by the conclusion of spring practice.
However, they may start with one talented starter who is moving from one position to another.
Starting center Cody Waldrop will get a look at right guard and could be the front-runner if Clayton Stadnik, who held his own at center in relief of Waldrop last season, continues to improve.
Big things are expected from Na'Ty Rodgers, a redshirt freshman who was recruited as a tackle but will compete at guard in the spring. He is listed as the co-starter with Waldrop.
Will Sport, a 6'5'', 294-pound junior who backed up Patrick last season could be in the mix. He is listed third on the depth chart. D.J. Park, another convert from tackle, is listed fourth.
Sophomore Brock Stadnik backed up A.J. Cann at the other guard spot last season and may get a chance to earn a starting role.
The Gamecocks must replace their leading receiver in Bruce Ellington, but the battle for the starting spot could be all but over before spring practice even begins.
Sophomore Pharoh Cooper should step right into Ellington's position.
He had an outstanding freshman season after moving from cornerback to wide receiver. He contributed not only at that position but in the return game and as the quarterback in the Wildcat formation.
Damiere Byrd and Shaq Roland should hold onto starting spots, but even so, there's opportunity to move up in the rotation at wide receiver.
Kwinton Smith and Kane Whitehurst will be trying to move ahead of Nick Jones and Shamier Jeffery to earn more playing time.