In a little more than four months, South Carolina will return to Williams-Brice Stadium, for its Aug. 29 Thursday night season opener against North Carolina.
The team that plays that night won’t look much like the one that took the field in Saturday’s spring game, which comprised mostly younger players.
But there were a few noteworthy nuggets from the Black team’s 44-30 win over the Garnet squad, and here they are …
** Coach Steve Spurrier is high on his tight ends, and rightfully so. Rory Anderson had two catches on Saturday, for 22 and 28 yards. Jerell Adams had five catches for 112 yards, including touchdowns of 23 and 59.
“I think you can tell we’ve got some tight ends that can really play,” Spurrier said. “We’ve got two of the best tight ends around. (Anderson) has gained over 30 pounds since he arrived here. He’s about 242. He looks like a tight end now. Both of them are tough. They don’t shy away from the ball. They’ve improved their blocking this spring.”
** Mike Davis emerged from the spring as Marcus Lattimore’s replacement at tailback. Filling Lattimore’s shoes won’t be easy.
“When I said he’s the best player to ever play here (on the field during halftime celebration at the spring game), I really mean that,” Spurrier said. “I think he is. His influence and what he did on the field was right there with the best. He was an influence on the entire team.
“(Davis) hadn’t really been able to get into our weight lifting and conditioning program (before his true freshman season last year). You can see he’s a different person. He’s faster, quicker, tougher, stronger.”
Said Davis: “Strength and conditioning helped me out a lot. I gained 10 pounds. I think that’s what really helped me a lot. I know that (Brandon) Wilds will probably still be coming for the same spot. The competition never ends.”
** Expect USC to start August practices planning on a rotation between quarterbacks Dylan Thompson and Connor Shaw, who missed the spring because of foot surgery.
“He and Connor give us our two best (quarterbacks) since I’ve been here,” Spurrier said. “That’s for sure.”
Spurrier said Shaw’s absence this spring doesn’t affect how he views the quarterback spot.
“Connor was out there every day,” Spurrier said. “He’s ready to go. They’ll both be ready. Spring practice is important for the younger guys. I guess one reason I don’t get all fired up for spring practice is only I went through one of them in my three years of them at Florida. I got hurt the other two. Nothing serious. We’re a lot more serious in preseason practices.”
** Thompson – who played sparingly in the spring game and was 6 of 10 for 96 yards, a touchdown and an interception – is happy with his spring and is fine with rotating with Shaw.
“I feel like what I wanted to work on I did a good job of – just quicker decisions,” Thompson said. “I feel like in the spring, I got a lot better. I wanted my feet to get quicker in offseason winter workouts and I feel like I did that.”
He likes knowing that he has a good chance of playing. It helps his preparation, he said.
“I think it helps a lot and the reason I say that is because I feel like – just being honest – when you’re the backup, it’s kind of like: ‘OK, he’s the guy and I’m the backup and that’s how it is.’ Going into a good bit of the games this year, I was like, ‘OK, I’ve got a great chance to play this week. I’m preparing like I’m a starter.’ This situation, I feel like we’ll both be extremely prepared.
“I think a lot of times in these two-quarterback things, when they go wrong, it has to do with the guys that are involved. I feel like a lot of times, those guys will be selfish, but I feel like with me and Connor, whatever way it goes, we’ll look at it extremely positive and handle it and move on from there.”
** Like Adams and Davis, wide receiver Shaq Roland came to USC last year as a highly regarded recruit. He had four catches for 44 yards in the spring game, including a six-yard touchdown. Most important, he held onto the ball. He could certainly complement Bruce Ellington as USC looks for someone to replace Ace Sanders’ production – be it Roland, Nick Jones, Shamier Jeffery or Damiere Byrd.
“Shaq Roland caught everything today,” Spurrier said. “The last scrimmage, he dropped about everything. I told him after the scrimmage, ‘You got a bad pair of gloves or what?’ He said, ‘I don’t know.’ So today after he was catching everything, he came over and said, ‘Coach, I got some new gloves.’ I said, ‘You better hang on to those.’ He caught everything, as he had in most of the scrimmages and practices. I don’t think Damiere got anything, but he needs to catch a lot this summer. He was hurt most of the spring (with a hamstring injury).”
** Spurrier knows a lot of people are going to set the bar high for USC in 2013.
“We’re not going to sit around here and talk about what we might do or can do,” he said. “We’ll probably be preseason No. 10 – eight to 10 to 12. If you remember, there were some teams last year picked No. 1 in the country and all summer they talked about how good they were and all the media wanted to go interview them all summer and they fell flat on their face. That happens when you get too much attention. So we don’t want too much attention. We want just the normal amount. I think we do have a chance to have a good team, though.”
** Every spring game, Spurrier has a trick play in which somebody comes off the sideline to catch a touchdown pass. This time, it was All-American defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who didn’t dress because of a sore back and neck that isn’t anything serious. Clowney caught the pass from Connor Mitch near the 5-yard line, turned and slipped, then got up and ran into the end zone. It was an amusing moment, though many in the stadium surely held their breath when Clowney fell.
“I told him he didn’t know he needed football shoes,” Spurrier said. “He had those real slippery sneakers and Connor Mitch underthrew him a little bit. He tried to plant and cut into the end zone and fell on his butt. It didn’t work quite like we had hoped, but anyway, it was worth a few laughs, I guess.”
On his way out of the interview room, Spurrier cracked to Clowney, “Those shoes don’t work very well, do they?”
Clowney this season will have to strike the serious balance of being an elite college player who knows he is going to be the first pick in the draft.
“He knows the money comes in about eight or nine months,” Spurrier said. “After our final game is when he knows he’s a pro. Just be a student-athlete until then.”
Clowney was happy to joke around about his catch off the sideline Saturday. He enjoyed the moment and threw the ball into the stands after he got up and jogged into the end zone.
“All the guys made me nervous at first,” he said. “I don’t catch passes, as everybody knows. I caught the ball, turned around and forgot I didn’t have my cleats on. It was pretty fun, though. Coach told me ahead of time that he wanted me to do it. I was like, ‘I’ll do it. It doesn’t matter. If I miss it or don’t, I’m just going to throw it in the stands anyway.’ He was like, ‘Go ahead. Have fun with it.’ So I did.”
Said defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward, with a wide grin: “I watched coach (Spurrier) talk to Clowney during stretching and told him it was going to happen and so JD’s biggest fear was he was going to drop that ball. I kept planting that seed in his head, that he was going to drop that ball. So when he caught it, he said that’s the only thing he was worried about, catching it. And then he slipped.”
** Clowney had some interesting comments about the differences between his old defensive line coach, Brad Lawing, and his new one, Deke Adams.
“He’s very different than coach Lawing,” Clowney said. “Coach Lawing is all about hitting the dummies and bags and not necessarily (working on) your feet. Coach Adams brings something different to the table. He works on feet more than anything, fast feet. He likes moving up front a lot more than coach Lawing did. It’s good to learn from two different guys, to give you that total package.”
For what it’s worth, Clowney expects to be cleared to work out again on Monday, as the soreness in his neck and back goes away.
As for USC’s team expectations next season, Clowney said, “I think we can be as good as we want to be.”
** Clowney has already done some informal research into the NFL’s life and money.
“I’ve been talking to guys already,” he said. “All of them tell me it’s totally different and you’ve got to save your money and don’t just do anything with it. It’s going to be something different. I talked to the guys that recently left here last year. They all said save your money and you don’t want to be doing too much, because there’s no telling how long your money is going to last, so just take care of it.”
** Backup free safety Chaz Elder, a redshirt freshman, had a nice 44-yard interception return in the spring game, but he hasn’t arrived.
“He had a decent spring,” Ward said. “I would have liked for him to have gotten a little better at a lot of the things that we asked him to do. I think he kind of grew up a little bit today, and I think that will help him in the future. He’s not there yet.”
** Ward knows he has questions to answer still at the will and spur linebacker spots, as well as free safety. The return of linebacker Cedrick Cooper and free safety T.J. Gurley from knee injuries should help sort those spots out in August, when Sharrod Golightly will continue to compete with Jordan Diggs at spur.
“I think our biggest question mark going into the spring was linebacker, and we’ve still got some question marks at linebacker,” Ward said. “I think Marcquis Roberts has had a really good spring. I think he’ll have an opportunity to help us. We’ll get Cedrick Cooper back. And watching Kelvin Rainey run around and make some plays (in the spring game). They’re young guys that hadn’t played the position at all until the 15 days (of spring practice). I feel like we’ve made some progress there.
“The good thing about linebackers is if they’re athletic enough and they can run, if they can get lined up, I can kind of dictate where they go. Today was just line up and play. We didn’t pressure (with blitzes). We played three deep, we played man-free and we played some two deep. We just wanted to see how they performed under normal circumstances. I can totally dictate what they do in a ball game, as far as where they go, because I can call pressures and send them certain places.
“I think (free safety) J.J. Marcus had a good spring. If J.J. didn’t have a good spring, then we probably would just pencil T.J. in as the starter (entering August). I think they’ll both come back and we’ll see who wins the battle in fall camp. It’ll definitely be a battle.”
Kaiwan Lewis should enter August as the No. 1 mike linebacker, while there seems to be a good chance that T.J. Holloman could compete with Cooper at will linebacker. Roberts and Rainey were also at will this spring. Holloman can play mike as well, but Lewis is the leader there.