Yes, South Carolina has Jadevon Clowney. But it also faces key decisions heading into the fall.
By STEVE EUBANKSFS Carolinas
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.