The story in Saturday’s print edition will focus on South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson and how, after a crazy 2012 season, he has a chance to earn a bigger role this spring, with Connor Shaw standing on the sideline and recovering from offseason left foot surgery.
Shaw will presumably enter August practices as the starter, as he has been since Stephen Garcia was kicked off the team midway through the 2011 season. And even if Shaw starts again in 2013 as a senior, Thompson, as a fourth-year junior this fall, has the inside track to take over the job in 2014. But what will his role be in 2013? That remains to be seen, of course.
For now, here are some comments from quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus and Thompson as the Gamecocks began spring practices without Shaw. After two practices this week, on Tuesday and Thursday, the Gamecocks go on spring break next week and resume practices on March 19.
What is the biggest gain Mangus has seen in Thompson?
“Just confidence,” Mangus said. “That’s the name of the game playing QB. You’ve got to play. The biggest thing they’ve all got to do is play and they’ll be fine. The East Carolina and the UAB games is when he started getting confidence, because he struggled at Vanderbilt. He struggled mightily in that game, and then all of a sudden he got some good plays and good things happening to him in those two games (ECU and UAB).”
“Dylan is a better runner than people give him credit for and Connor is a heck of a lot better passer than people give him credit for.”
Mangus isn’t worried about Shaw missing the spring. Shaw graduated high school early and was around for spring practices in 2010, so this would have been his fourth spring. Shaw’s absence lets Thompson get more reps.
“That’s kind of the silver lining,” Mangus said. “Connor needs the entire summer to go get himself ready to go in August, and he can do that over the summer. He’s the veteran. He’s been there. He’s gone through springs. Missing this one, I don’t think is going to put him behind at all. He’ll get caught up. He can get plenty of mental reps out here.”
Mangus said that Thompson and USC’s other quarterbacks – redshirt freshman Brendan Nosovitch and true freshman Connor Mitch (who graduated high school early to enroll this spring) – will get more value from spring reps.
“Brendan and those guys got a lot thrown at them for two days,” Mangus said.
Still, Shaw can gain things this spring. He is in all the quarterback meetings and is “doing everything but playing,” Mangus said.
“He’s standing right next to me (during practice),” Mangus said. “He gives me the play off the sheet and he sits there and watches: OK, where should I go with the ball? There’s a whole lot you can do. It’s no different than those guys (who are playing and should be observing when they’re not in the practice). He’s just not getting his rep.”
Mangus said Shaw is “on schedule” with his recovery and should be ready this summer.
USC was the only major college to offer Thompson a football scholarship. Furman was Thompson’s only other offer. What did USC’s coaches see in Thompson?
“He came to (USC’s) camp (as a high school player) and he was kind of athletic,” Mangus said of Thompson, who was listed at 6-3 an 201 pounds in high school, 11 pounds lighter than he is now. “He was big, athletic, size-15 shoe. We kind of didn’t know what, really, he would end up being (position-wise). We thought he could be a bunch of things, but we knew he was a good athlete.
“If you saw him here at camp that day, you knew he was going to be something. When you recruit people, too, you don’t know what’s in here (points to heart) and what’s in here (points to head). Dylan’s got both of those, and that can get you a long way in this game, and a long way in life, period. He’s got that ‘it’ and that want-to and that drive. He was just very raw.”
Was Mangus surprised more schools didn’t offer Thompson?
“I’ve never offered a guy off of what anybody else thinks beforehand,” Mangus said.
Thompson has yet to prove himself as an every-game starting quarterback, but he certainly has exceeded expectations in the chance he’s gotten.
“Some guys are late bloomers,” Mangus said, citing the case of quarterbacks Brad Johnson and Casey Weldon.
They were the same year at Florida State in the early 1990s. Johnson played behind Weldon for most of his career. The difference between Johnson and Thompson is that Johnson was a Parade All-American in high school.
Johnson was a ninth-round pick in the 1992 NFL draft, back when there were 12 rounds. He played in the NFL until 2008, was a two-time Pro Bowler, won a Super Bowl and threw for 29,054 yards and 166 touchdowns.
Weldon, in an interesting piece of trivia, was the distant runner-up in the 1991 Heisman Trophy voting to Desmond Howard (2,077 voting points to 503). Weldon was a fourth-round draft pick who played in 26 NFL games from 1993-99, never started, attempted 120 passes and threw just one touchdown.
This isn’t to say that Thompson is Johnson and Shaw is Weldon. After all, Johnson, even as a late bloomer, was a more highly regarded recruit than both Shaw and Thompson. But Mangus’ point remains: Just because you’re not a huge recruit or a consistent college starter doesn’t mean you can’t be successful in college or the NFL.
Most of the things Thompson said after Thursday’s practice will be in Saturday’s story, but there were some things that didn’t make it, such as this interesting comment from Thompson when he was asked about taking on a leadership role in 2013 …
“I feel like so many guys get stuck on performance,” he said. “If we can just get off being performance-based, because everybody’s going to say, ‘Can you win? Can you lose? Are you doing good for me? Are you doing bad for me?’ And just work on being the best us that we can be. I think our team will be better because of it, if we just focus on going out and doing our job, versus trying to work on, ‘Am I going to start? Am I not going to start?’ Just constantly improve every day and I think that’s what we’re getting at here.”
Thompson is a deeply religious Christian. Even though he doesn’t seek out the attention that came with his 2012 success, he is fine with it, because it allows him to share his beliefs.
“I guess it’s been good, just showing my face,” he said. “And it’s been awesome to be able to have that platform, and just see that I’m just a normal guy that God’s doing great things through, and he can do it through any one of us. I think that’s awesome.”
His faith helps give him perspective, he said.
“It’s awesome because this out here (on the football field) has nothing to do with my relationship with Christ, and I think that’s for everyone,” he said. “Being here and knowing that, you can put so much pressure on yourself being out here – coach isn’t proud of me right now, so I’m so down – when really, you’ve got to look at different things and keep your level of joy up. I definitely think that has a huge, huge impact on everything I do.”
Finally, a couple notes on Mitch, who is in the same position that Shaw was in as an early enroller in 2010 …
“He’s just got a lot to learn,” Mangus said of Mitch, who will almost certainly redshirt.
Mitch has talked to Shaw about his experience in 2010 and what Mitch can expect now.
“He told me when he came in, it was an adjustment,” Mitch said. “He said it’s going to take a while, maybe a couple scrimmages, to finally get used to everything and have everything slow do for you.”
What has Mitch noticed so far?
“The speed of the game,” he said. “In high school, you can throw the ball and it’ll be a completion. But here, you see the DBs and they adjust to it. They break on it when you don’t expect it.”