Coming off the best season in school history, Steve Spurrier has been extremely upbeat during the beginning of spring practice. Despite the loss of several key performers the Head Ball Coach believes the University of South Carolina can improve on last season's 11-2 record, having set a goal of at least 12 victories for the 2012 campaign.
There were several things that would disrupt most teams, including the loss of the Gamecocks running back, special team and safeties coach along with the strength and conditioning coordinator. Probably the biggest loss was that of defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson who left to take the head coaching position at Southern Mississippi.
The new coaches appear to have hit the ground running if the first few spring practices are any indication. Following a strong finish to the 2011 campaign, junior quarterback Connor Shaw gained 12 pounds during winter workouts, while running a 4.5-second 40-yard dash. His passing has been accurate and he appears to have taken control of the team.
The biggest void during the spring has been the absence of All-American running back Marcus Lattimore and number two tailback Shon Carson who are rehabilitating following knee surgeries during the 2011 season. Kenny Miles, who has already graduated, has been getting most of the practice time at the position along with sophomore Brandon Wilds.
Miles has yet to inform the coaching staff if he plans to return or play his final season or play at a different school. According to running back coach Everette Sands, he has not only taken part in all winter workouts, but been a leader.
A big void must be filled at wide receiver where All-American Alshon Jeffery opted to place his name in consideration for the NFL Draft. Junior Ace Sanders is the leader of the group that also returns sophomore burner Damiere Byrd, senior D. L. Moore, sophomore Nick Jones and redshirt freshman K.J. Brent. Another player at the position who appears poised to make a splash is Jeffery's brother -- redshirt freshman Shamier Jeffery.
The offensive line will be younger but more talented as redshirt freshman Brandon Shell moves in at left tackle, while sophomore Mike Matulis, who is sitting out the spring following shoulder surgery, is the right tackle. Sophomore A. J. Cann returns at left guard, while junior Ronald Patrick will be the right yard.
Senior T. J. Johnson, the veteran of the group will start for the third straight season at center.
There will be more changes on defense. While Ward will continue to employ the 4-2-5 attack that features the hybrid Spur position, he plans to be more aggressive that his predecessor with more blitzing.
The team loses its most valuable defensive player in end Melvin Ingram, who is projected to be a top 15 pick in the NFL Draft and tackle Travian Robertson who is also projected to be drafted.
Despite the loss the Gamecocks return possibly the best end combo in the nation in sophomore Jadeveon Clowney and senior Devin Taylor. Both All-SEC performers, Clowney had eight sacks as a freshman was named both the SEC and national Defensive Freshman of the Year.
Sophomore Kelcy Quarles started the final six games of the season. Senior Byron Jerideau, the team's strongest performer, will be called to fill in for the departed Robertson.
Senior Shaq Wilson returns as the defensive leader at middle linebacker, while senior Damario Jeffery takes over at the weakside spot.
DeVonte Holloman, a two year starter at strong safety, will move to the Spur position which many believe is is natural position.
Two important secondary performers, cornerback Akeem Auguste and free safety D. J. Swearinger, are sitting out the spring while recuperating from injuries.
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