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Gamecocks conclude spring drills

Spring football is officially over. South Carolina put a bow on its 15 practices with a 90 minute workout in shorts and helmets on Thursday afternoon at the Proving Grounds. The Gamecocks will now break to finish up the school year but the most important part of the year – summer workouts – is forthcoming.

South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier, who will officially receive a contract extension tomorrow, summed up the spring practice, which included two workouts following the Garnet & Black Spring Game.

“We finished spring practice. Two days, we practiced after the game. First time I think I’ve ever done this and it’s pretty neat,” Spurrier said. “Just got a chance to work with the guys individually here today and Tuesday. Now we’re headed to the offseason. The players are off the month of May and will come back the beginning of June. Look forward to the season but we have a long way to go.”

Many view spring football as their second favorite sport in college athletics but when it comes to overall importance, summer workouts is paramount. Spurrier has stressed the importance of having a good summer when talking about position battles.

He’s gone out of his way to say various positions, especially that at quarterback, will largely be decided by which player decides to work the hardest in the summer.

“I’ve always believed summer is more important than spring,” Spurrier said. “You get 15 practices out here and during these 15, we try to teach our players, ‘here is what you need to do all summer.’ Some guys do it and some go drink beer all summer. Hopefully our guys will go try to get fundamentally sound and be ready to go in August when we start preseason practice.”

Spurrier said that if the team had to suit up and play tomorrow, sophomore Connor Shaw would be the starting quarterback with Andrew Clifford as the backup. That makes sense given that fifth-year senior Stephen Garcia is suspended indefinitely. But even though he is suspended for now, Garcia will be able to organize passing sessions this summer with his receivers, if he should choose to do so.

The Head Ball Coach didn’t single out Garcia as falling down on the job but he did note that during his time at South Carolina, he’s seen very little improvement from the end of spring practice to the start of fall in quarterback play.

“It’s important they throw a whole bunch. We keeping asking Connor, ‘Your arm isn’t sore, is it,’” Spurrier said. “We rapid-fire down here. That’s what they have to do all summer if we’re ever going to throw it really well around here. I don’t think we’ve had great summer workouts with our quarterbacks and receivers for some reason. They come out here and it’s about where we left them in spring ball.”

By NCAA rules, the coaches are not allowed to be on the field with their players until the start of fall practice. The strength and conditioning coaches can be in the weight room with the team but that’s about the extent of supervision.

All the coaches can do is teach the players what to do and set forth a plan. It’s up to the guys on the team to carry it out and improve on their own.

“It’s an individual thing,” Spurrier said. “Coaches can only give them a plan and they have to do it. We can’t coach them during the summer. We’ll see if our quarterbacks come back much better prepared to throw it up and down the field. I think we’ll have an excellent group of receivers.”

Spurrier added that he thought having a couple of practices after the spring game, even though they were in shorts and helmets, “worked out pretty well.” He said they may look at doing that again next year if weather causes the postponement of any scheduled drills in 2012.

The team will return for fall camp on Tuesday, August 2. The first day of fall practice is set for the following day.

Specialists

Special teams coordinator John Butler said after practice that if he had to name starters on special teams, as of the end of spring practice, DJ Swearinger would be the primary kickoff returner. He also said that Stephon Gilmore and Ace Sanders were battling for the top job at punter return with Nick Jones also in the mix as well. He said more emphasis has been put on kickoff return right now versus punt return though.

In the kicking game, it is still a three-way competition between Jay Wooten, Adam Yates, and Joey Scribner-Howard. Butler did note that Wooten probably has a slight edge at the moment. Scribner-Howard has the edge in the punt duties over Patrick Fish.

Quick hitters

- Spurrier all but confirmed that the both he and his assistant coaches will receive pay raises when the Board of Trustees meet on Friday. “There was never any big deal about it,” Spurrier said. “I don’t know how important it was. Just trying to get in line with all the other SEC schools in football salaries.”

- Wide receiver Bryce Sherman did not begin participating in practice but left after a short time to go get a helmet. He participated in a few non-contact drills as well as seven-on-seven work. Sherman has been out the last handful of practices after being in a car accident. He has been at each practice.

- Players who were out for practice and most or all of the spring included Marty Markett, Ryan Broadhead, Rodney Paulk, Matt O’Brien, Dalton Wilson and Ronald Patrick. Travian Robertson (hamstring) and Rokevious Watkins (family issue) did not practice on Thursday.

- It was announced on Thursday that Steve Spurrier and Sterling Sharpe will again pair to represent South Carolina in the Chick-fil-A Bowl Challenge golf tournament, which is scheduled for May 1-3 at Reynolds Plantation just outside of Atlanta. Thirteen different teams will compete for a $415,000 scholarship purse for their institution. Other head coaches include Nick Saban, Dabo Swinney, and Jimbo Fisher, who is the reigning champion.

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