1. What was the general mood surrounding the team as spring practice came to a close for South Carolina?
It was a general mood of uncertainty exiting the spring but that doesn't mean there weren't positives. Injuries and the fact that there are still players yet to arrive led to that. The Gamecocks were working with five to six offensive lineman for much of the spring so because of that it was hard to even see what the offensive line will look like or how to gauge the improvement of the defensive line. The healthy defensive line caused havoc during some portions of practice, throwing off the quarterbacks and making parts of that race ambiguous as well. Towards the end of the spring, Spurrier made it known that this wasn't really his team by any means because of the injuries and pending arrivals.
2. Any surprises or disappointments?
There weren't really any disappointments performance-wise, just the rash of injuries was deflating. Shamier Jeffery, the younger brother of NFL star Alshon Jeffery, is a guy fans have been waiting to see break out ever since he arrived. During his last spring an injury hampered him so that was a bit disappointing. Deebo Samuel, a wide receiver in the mold of Bruce Ellington, was a nice surprise but if you paid really close attention to the program, you heard about his impending rise. From spring practice, it appears the Gamecocks may have three legitimate options at tight end. Fans and opponents knew about Jerrell Adams but K.C. Crosby and Jacob August both put together fantastic springs and will provide the Gamecocks with pass-catching options in case no one emerges outside of Pharoh Cooper at the wide receiver position.
3. Nine starters back, but from a defense that really struggled in 2014 and replaced coordinator Lorenzo Ward. What's the hope for this unit with John Hoke in town to run things now?
To piggyback from the last question onto this one. The defense was a surprise for me. They kept it simple all spring and looked faster, quicker in practice. Jon Hoke, a longtime NFL assistant and Spurrier's defensive coordinator after Bob Stoops at Florida, was brought in after last year's disaster. He's bringing in a 4-3 look and blending it with the 4-2-5 look the Gamecocks have been running. Over and over the coaches praised the players for their ability to quickly handle the new scheme. Hoke mentioned they never had to spend an extra day on any aspect of the defense because players weren't able to handle the new installations. I don't think anyone is expecting things to change overnight but the defense was especially bad in the fourth quarter last season, costing USC three or four games and you're looking at a different narrative about last season if a couple, or all, those games end in the Gamecocks favor. The hope is for no more blown leads and that'll be a good start. The emphasis Hoke is putting on technique, alignment, and responsibility will hopefully lead to that, as well as better tackling and an increase in pressure.
4. Any concerns on offense replacing a talent like Mike Davis and an experienced starter at quarterback in Dylan Thompson?
I think there are some concerns replacing Davis and Thompson but not as much as probably some outsiders think. Despite Thompson's record-breaking performance last year, many fans grew tired of Thompson by the end of the year. His decision-making was often iffy and he threw some costly interceptions. I think it only made people's love for Connor Shaw grow stronger. Fans are uncertain about Connor Mitch or whoever might lead the Gamecocks this season but I don't think anyone's crying over Thompson's departure. As for Mike Davis, he was as frustrating as it got last year but it wasn't his fault. He oozes talent when you see him in person but for the better part of the last year and a half, Davis dealt with several different injuries. I don't think it was well-documented so fans thought he was dogging it. It would have been nice if he stayed but fans are happy with who the carries will go to this year. Brandon Wilds has been around for a few years and he's a really talented back, whether it's taking hand-offs, blocking, or catching the ball out of the backfield. Injuries are a concern for him but when healthy, he's as good as any back in the conference in my opinion. What makes the backfield even more interesting is that I don't even think Wilds is the most talented back the Gamecocks have. Philadelphia's own David Williams saw limited time last season but will likely split carries with Wilds this season. His physique makes him look powerful, and he has that talent, but Williams also has run a 4.34 forty-yard dash during his time in Columbia. I think Williams can be an outstanding SEC back.
5. South Carolina and LSU have become more familiar than you might think in the last few years, rotating onto each other's schedules quite a bit. What's the perception of LSU and its fans over in Sakerlina, and the opinion on matching up again this fall?
The match-up this fall is the highlight of the year over here. People are pumped about the Tigers on the schedule, especially with it being a home game. No matter what teams look like on paper, Gamecock fans always believe they have a chance to beat anyone within Williams-Brice Stadium. With the record the Gameococks have there the last few years, you can't blame them for that line of thinking. I think the perception of LSU over this way is one Tiger fans would be happy with. They're a school that produces talent, whether it's just really good college football players or top-tier NFL prospects. They possess a stadium that should be more feared than Williams-Brice, which should mean a lot to an LSU fan if they knew how beloved USC's confines are by its attendants. I'm not sure USC folks are sold on Les Miles or whoever the Tigers run out at quarterback as elite among their peers but they know they often get the job done, which is all that's asked around here.