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.