South Carolina begins spring practice on Tuesday – the first of two workouts this week (also on Thursday) before resuming on March 19, after spring break.
The Gamecocks’ spring depth chart is out, and here is a look at how they are planning to replace lost starters …
At wide receiver, USC lost one significant contributor, but that was Ace Sanders, who ranked first on the team with 45 catches last season and second with 531 yards. He led the team with nine touchdowns. He decided to turn pro early.
Bruce Ellington, who was first on the team with 600 yards and second with 40 catches and seven touchdowns, is on the spring depth chart. So it appears he is leaning toward playing football again this fall, for the third straight season.
As the Gamecocks try to replace Sanders, junior Damiere Byrd is listed first on the depth chart at one of the three receiver spots, ahead of sophomores Shaq Roland (the former Mr. Football in the state of South Carolina) and Shamier Jeffery (Alshon’s younger brother). Roland had five catches for 80 yards and a touchdown last season. Jeffery had no stats.
Byrd is an intriguing player. He is one of the Gamecocks’ fastest guys, but hasn’t done much in his first two years. While playing as a true freshman in 2011, he had just one catch for 16 yards. Last season, he had 14 catches for 366 yards and three touchdowns. He had just two catches in the final six games, both against Michigan in the Outback Bowl.
Ellington and Nick Jones were the other starting receivers at the end of last season, and they remain atop the depth chart as they prepare for their junior seasons.
On the offensive line, USC brings back left tackle Corey Robinson, left guard A.J. Cann, right guard Ronald Patrick and right tackle Brandon Shell. T.J. Johnson is gone after starting three years at center, and redshirt freshman Cody Waldrop is listed as the top candidate to replace him this spring. Mike Matulis might have challenged Robinson at left tackle this spring, but Matulis is again out this spring after undergoing shoulder surgery for the second consecutive year.
Not surprisingly, Rory Anderson sits atop the depth chart at tight end, as the Gamecocks lost Justice Cunningham (23 catches for 324 yards last season). Anderson had 14 catches for 271 yards and five touchdowns last year and eight for 188 and three touchdowns in 2011. In his career, all five of his red zone catches have gone for touchdowns, including three last year.
Tight end Jerell Adams played as a true freshman last season and had four catches for 90 yards and a touchdown. This spring will be important for him to prove he can be a complementary tight end, at least, as Anderson was for Cunningham.
As you know, the quarterback situation will be interesting this spring, because Connor Shaw is out after undergoing foot surgery. Dylan Thompson, Brendan Nosovitch and Connor Mitch comprise the depth chart at this point. Whatever competition awaits Shaw and Thompson is on hold until August practices.
The process of replacing Marcus Lattimore starts this spring with Mike Davis at No. 1, as expected, followed by Brandon Wilds, Kendric Salley and Shon Carson, who is splitting time with baseball.
Davis had 52 carries for 275 yards and two touchdowns last season as a true freshman, and the highest-rated member of USC’s Class of 2012. The game after Lattimore went down for the year with a right knee injury, Davis had 13 carries for 53 yards against Arkansas. Two games later, he had 12 for 43 against Clemson. As he continues to improve his pass protection, he will become a more complete back. With the ball in his hands, he is already a major asset.
USC’s defensive line – probably the strongest part of its entire team last season – brings back tackle Kelcy Quarles and that Jadeveon Clowney fellow at end. The replacements for end Devin Taylor and tackle Byron Jerideau are, for now, Chaz Sutton and J.T. Surratt.
Sutton is a senior and a career backup who had the best season of his career in 2012 (seven tackles for loss, including five sacks) while playing extensively in the rabbits package (four ends on the field at the same time). Can he be a productive every-down end?
No position group on USC’s entire team lost more than linebacker. Gone are last year’s starting mike, will and spur – Reginald Bowens, Shaq Wilson and DeVonte Holloman.
Kaiwan Lewis played special teams last season as a true freshman, while fellow newcomer T.J. Holloman redshirted. They are listed first and second at mike.
Third-year sophomore Cedrick Cooper has waited his turn and will miss the spring after undergoing knee surgery, but is listed atop the will depth chart. In his absence, sophomore Marcquis Roberts and converted tight end Kelvin Rainey, a redshirt freshman, will man the position. At spur, junior Sharrod Golightly is listed ahead of redshirt freshman Jordan Diggs.
In the secondary, juniors Victor Hampton and Brison Williams return at cornerback and strong safety. Senior Jimmy Legree, who started some last season, moves up to replace Akeem Auguste as the No. 1 guy at the other corner spot.
One of the most difficult players to replace from last season will be free safety D.J. Swearinger, a ferocious hitter and vocal team leader. When Swearinger was suspended for a game last season because of a helmet-to-helmet hit, true freshman T.J. Gurley stepped in and capably replaced him. Then Gurley suffered a season-ending knee injury at Florida. He is out this spring.
Look for Gurley, like Cooper, to perhaps win the position when he returns for preseason practices. But for now, junior Kadetrix Marcus and redshirt freshman Chaz Elder are USC’s top two at free safety.