S. Carolina faces key decision for SEC title run

It’s hard to tell if it’s a smile or a smirk.

Talk to South
Carolina fans about the best college football players in the country,
and the cheeks rise with the corners of their mouths. Sure, Johnny
Manziel made the biggest splash in 2012, but in the minds of Gamecock
fans, not only is Johnny Football not the best player in the country, he
isn’t the best in the SEC.  

They believe that title goes to
their own Jadeveon Clowney, who is looking more and more like a larger
version of Lawrence Taylor with dreadlocks. Clowney has had an
extraordinary spring practice that included all the requisite
bone-crushing tackles and even featured a blocked field goal where he
kicked the ball out of the holder’s hands.

Unfortunately for
fans, Clowney isn’t likely to participate in Gamecocks’ spring game.
That makes sense. There is no upside. Why risk injuring a man who will
probably be the No.1 pick in the 2014 NFL draft and possibly the first
strictly defensive player ever to win the Heisman Trophy?

The
rising junior has gotten his reps. Steve Spurrier knows that to play him
in an April scrimmage for the benefit of a few die-hard fans would be
foolish. And for all his hee-haw rambling, Spurrier is not a fool.  

Plus,
the Old Ball Coach needs to keep his eye on some positions that are
actually up for grabs. He has some crucial decisions to make when it
comes to fielding a team that will give South Carolina a shot as its
first SEC title.

So far, there are interesting position battles shaping up on defense where Clowney is the cornerstone.

Redshirt
junior Sharrod Golightly from Decatur, Ga., is in a head-knocking
battle with redshirt freshman Jordan Diggs for the “spur” linebacker
spot, a hybrid of linebacker and safety that requires solid speed, good
hands, and an ability to hit backs that are likely to be just as big and
fast. Golightly is undersized at 5-foot-10, but he has shown the smarts
and anticipation to play the position well while Diggs is a little
bigger and just as hard working. This battle will likely continue well
into the summer.
 
Another hole is the safety spot left open by
the departure of D.J. Swearinger for the NFL. Kadetrix Marcus has been
the heir apparent to that job, but redshirt freshman Chaz Elder has at
least made him work for it. While not as interesting a battle as the
slugfest between Golightly and Diggs, the Marcus/Elder position fight
should insure that the safety position is adequately covered.  

Of
course Spurrier being Spurrier, the defensive battles are all likely to
be overshadowed by the Ball Coach’s schizophrenic obsession with
quarterbacks. While it’s all tea-leaf reading at this point, Spurrier
appears to be leaning toward a two-platoon quarterback scenario with
Dylan Thompson running the pro-style offense and Connor Shaw coming in
on read-option calls.

There are far more examples of those
arrangements failing than there are two-platoon QB success stories, but
both Shaw and Thompson have experience and solid skill sets. If Spurrier
decides to run them in and out as a unit, at least neither young man
will have to worry about losing his job in a visor-tossing pique of
anger.
 
The running game is still open as no one has been picked
to pound out those tough yards Marcus Lattimore was so adept at
gaining.

Still, with two solid quarterbacks and a defense that
is shaping up to be among the best in the league, Gamecock fans have
every reason to smile.

For them, September can’t get here fast enough.