South Carolina was supposed to have its first spring football scrimmage last Saturday, but rain intervened. So the Gamecocks scrimmaged in Williams-Brice Stadium for the second half of Thursday’s practice.
Coach Steve Spurrier said afterward that he plans to do the same thing next Thursday and scrimmage as scheduled next Saturday. USC is off this weekend and doesn’t practice again until next Tuesday. After next Saturday’s scrimmage, USC has just two practices before the April 13 spring game.
Thursday’s scrimmage involved almost entirely backups and younger players, but there were a few fireworks, including linebacker T.J. Holloman and center Cody Waldrop – projected starters both – tussling on the ground for a few minutes. Normally reserved running backs coach Everette Sands also laced into backup tailback Kendric Salley, a redshirt freshman, at one point. Sands was furious that Salley threw the ball at a defender at the end of a run.
“I still have that sign in my office: ‘Ball security is job security – yours and mine,’” Sands said, adding that throwing the ball at a defender is “even worse” than fumbling. “He was running with the ball and I guess the guys came and gang tackled him and he got mad and he took the ball and threw it. The ball on the ground is one thing that will get me rolling.”
What did Sands say to Salley?
“Don’t you ever do that again,” Sands said. “The one thing I wanted him to understand is there’s only one football on the field at a time, and we can’t give it away. It’s bad enough when they take it from us. I’m not just going to give it away and throw it at them. Hopefully he gets the point.”
Salley is behind Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds, but Salley got some experience Thursday, when he had three carries for 16 yards, compared to three for 31 for Davis and two for seven for Wilds.
“(Salley) did OK,” Sands said. “He’s still learning. He’s still missing some assignments here and there. He had a couple nice runs in there. On that particular run (when he threw the ball), I thought he missed a cut and then he didn’t finish the run and that’s how he got hemmed up, because he didn’t finish the run. If he finished it like he’s capable of finishing it, then he would have been all right.”
Davis seems to be the leader right now to replace Marcus Lattimore, but Sands said he hasn’t made any decisions yet on the No. 1 tailback, nor does he have to at this point.
“The battle is still on for who’s going to be the No. 1 guy,” Sands said. “Nobody has the No. 1 deal locked up yet.”
Shon Carson isn’t in the mix at all at this point, because he is playing outfield for USC’s baseball team. Carson missed all but two games of his first season, 2011, because of a knee injury and all of last season because of a wrist injury. Sands said Carson has only been to a couple football meetings this spring, but Sands is OK with that.
“I would have loved to have seen him out here,” Sands said. “But he’s in baseball, and we told him, ‘If you’re a contributor in baseball, we want you to stay with baseball.’ That’s one thing that he loves to do, and I think that’s helping his confidence overall.”
But isn’t Carson’s absence from football this spring limiting his development?
“Of course it is,” Sands said. “We’d love to have him out here, but he’s taking care of the baseball right now.”
Some other notes from the scrimmage …
** Offensive line coach Shawn Elliott wanted to see his new redshirt freshman center, Waldrop, do a better job of snapping the ball in game-like situations. And Elliott has seen that from Waldrop, as well as from the No. 2 center, redshirt freshman Clayton Stadnik.
“I think he’s done really well,” Elliott said of Waldrop. “I think both of the centers have done really well. We only had one bad snap (in Thursday’s scrimmage). I’m pretty pleased with our snapping ability right now. We’re making progress.”
** After beginning last season, his redshirt freshman year, as the left tackle, Brandon Shell moved to right tackle, where he played at Goose Creek High – and he found a home on the right side, not surprisingly. Shell knows he still must improve his pass blocking. Because Goose Creek primarily runs the ball, he didn’t pass block much in high school.
What are the things Shell learned about pass protection from playing in games last season that he might not have learned just from practice?
“Just the speed of my kicks and my hand placement and how I turn my inside foot and give (the defensive end) the edge,” he said. “Stuff like that, you can learn in practice, but in a game you see full speed.”
** Quarterback Connor Mitch graduated high school early to enroll this spring and is spending the spring learning the playbook. He will redshirt this season.
But he got considerable action in Thursday’s scrimmage. He was 9 of 11 for 78 yards and a five-yard touchdown to Shamier Jeffery. This spring’s No. 1 quarterback, Dylan Thompson, was 1 of 3 for 16 yards, and redshirt freshman Brendan Nosovitch was 5 of 11 for 55 yards.
So has Mitch gotten a lot of calls from his buddies back home in Raleigh, N.C., about what’s going on there?
“Actually, my two best friends on my football team graduated early and they’re at (North Carolina) right now,” Mitch said of Jordan Fieulleteau and his twin brother, Justin. “We just talk about the adjustments in general to college.”
** Quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus isn’t heartbroken over starter Connor Shaw missing the spring because of foot surgery, since it means the younger guys are getting work.
Plus, Mangus said, “I don’t know that these 15 practices are going to necessarily make (Shaw) any better come August. The summertime will, and he’s going to be ready to go (then). He’s getting a lot of mental reps out here (in the spring), which will pay dividends I think.”
What have Mangus’ impressions of Mitch been?
“You try to ease them into it,” Mangus said. “If you put too much on them early, I hate to see quarterbacks go in the jar early because of information overload. So we’ve tried to take it slow and tried not to give him too much, and I hate to say dummy it down, but just keep it simple and let them go play. When a quarterback is not thinking and he’s just playing, he’s got a chance to be pretty good. They go back to their natural instincts of letting it go. When they’re thinking now, it’s hard to pull the trigger.
“He and Brendan have been going through that in practice because we’re installing stuff and every play is different instead of repeating plays, but that’s what you have to do when you’re installing your offense. Today, I was just glad to see some composure and being able to stand in there and let the ball go and kind of act like you’ve been there before. They both looked pretty good doing it.”
Mitch mentioned that handling coverage disguises has been an adjustment for him.
“It’s a lot faster, too,” Mangus said. “Not only are they disguising. There are things we try to teach them: Here’s what you can look at to tell you why they’re disguising and where it is. But it still happens so fast and the blitzes are faster and the rotations are faster and the windows are smaller. That’s always an adjustment. Until it slows down, it can be an evil adjustment at times. They’ve thrown a few picks, but that’s good for them. They’re going to make mistakes in the spring and this is the time to make them, because we’re not counting score right now.”
Mangus mentioned earlier this spring that Thompson had to improve on throwing to his left. Mangus said Thompson has gotten “much better” at that by improving his footwork.
“He’s worked real hard on that,” Mangus said. “He’s been playing pretty well so far. Dylan is ahead of the curve, so to speak.”
** USC needs a receiver to complement Bruce Ellington this season. Nick Jones is the most experienced candidate, but receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. said he has actually been most impressed by sophomore Shaq Roland and junior Shamier Jeffery, both of whom have precious little previous experience. Roland had three catches for 40 yards in the scrimmage. Jeffery had just the one five-yard touchdown catch on a fade route.
“Shaq would probably the next guy I’ve been the most impressed with coming out here this spring, and Shamier,” Spurrier Jr. said, when talking about guys to complement Ellington.
When it was suggested to Spurrier Jr. that Jeffery’s fade route touchdown catch in the back corner of the end zone was a point of progress for him, Spurrier Jr. said, “Yeah, but that’s an easy play for him. If he had to do that all day long, he’d have 1,000 touchdowns. That’s something he can do. He’s big and he’s got very similar (big) hands to his brother (former USC star Alshon Jeffery).”
What are Shamier Jeffery’s weaker areas right now?
“Deep routes,” Spurrier Jr. said. “He’s still not a real speedster, which is OK. He’s still learning how to weave through traffic and avoid people and see all that stuff. Bump and runs, slants and fades are some things he’s pretty strong at.”
“Obviously, that play right there (the fade route), he’s possibly better than anybody because he’s a little bigger and has a little better ability to catch the ball and kind of judge it and come down with it. We try not to position-specific guys too much, but that’s something he is a little better at.”
Spurrier Jr. continues to be impressed by how Ellington can switch between basketball and football. He is back with football now and said he will play both sports next season for the third and final season. He has a year of football eligibility left after that, in 2014.
“It’s extremely rare,” Spurrier Jr. said of Ellington switching back and forth. “He could play all day long. Even (coming) from basketball, I said, ‘Take a week off. Try to rest a little bit. We’ll see you next Monday.’ And the next day he was at practice. He can’t get away. He can’t sleep. He’s got to run and be catching and dribbling and throwing something all the time. He has a rare quality of endurance and just competitive toughness that you don’t find very often. It’s pretty impressive.”