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August 4, 2013
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1. Clowney can dominate more than a tackling sled.
There was no bone-jolting hit from Jadeveon Clowney last night at practice that made the internet stop and pay attention like it did the day before when he and Gerald Dixon toppled a tackling sled, but that's not to say Clowney didn't impress...and massively.
While working through the individual technique drills all practice, there wasn't much to see with the junior from Rock Hill until the end of practice. In the brief scrimmage portion of practice that generally is the last thing the team does, Clowney (6-foot-6, 274) lined up across from junior left tackle Corey Robinson (6-8, 341), and for two straight plays went by him so easily, so fast and so decisively he was flying toward Connor Shaw's backside and would have destroyed the senior quarterback had play been live.
As it was, he flew right past him and allowed the play to progress as if he wasn't, you know, the superhuman freak of nature that he is. Clowney will be tested come Aug. 29 just like he was against Michigan in the bowl game when he faces a quality left tackle in North Carolina senior James Hurst, a 6-7, 305-pound first team All-ACC (Coaches) performer who has started 36 games and is considered "one of" the nation's best tackles by the UNC media guide and "the best left tackle in the country" by his quarterback, senior Bryn Renner.
For Renner's sake, he better hope so, and even if he's right, what Clowney has shown is that the great tackles can contain him with help from tight ends or guards - for a time. Basically, until Clowney decides he's tired of all that and feels like changing the game, which no one has stopped him from doing when he wants to yet.
2. Everyone's accounted for.
Sometimes it's easy to forget how good South Carolina has had it in recent years from a disciplinary point of view. As fellow SEC members - ahem, Georgia, ahem - find themselves year after year having to suspend several key players for either practices or early season games because of regrettable behavior exhibited during the off-season, the Gamecocks have cruised through without major incident and more quietly, even, than that program to the northwest that likes to paint Columbia as a a modern-day Gomorrah compared to its idyllic, worry-free, pastoral confines.
After sophomores Shaq Roland and Jerell Adams missed Friday night's practice for academic issues relating to summer school, both were back on the field Saturday, which meant that USC had its full complement of scholarship and walk-on athletes available for practice.
Now, it's hard to imagine this will be the case all through camp, and injuries are inevitable, especially given the heat the team is practicing in and especially when the shoulder pads come on and things get real. But still, you have to tip your cap at the leadership year after year from players who either a) don't do the stupid stuff others once did, or b) know how not to get caught. I'm hoping it's "a", but I'm fine with "b." Whatever the case, it's a luxury not all teams have, even this early in camp.
3. Deke Adams was a great hire.
Say what you will about former defensive line coach Brad Lawing, now with the Florida Gators. He was a terrific coach, no question, and his institutional knowledge was second to none at USC and his rapport with his players was solid. But make no mistake, Brad Lawing was responsible for Lawing leaving and no one else, and when faced with the unexpected departure, Steve Spurrier and defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward went out and got a stud in Deke Adams, formerly of North Carolina, formerly of Southern Miss.
Watching him in practice, Adams is always teaching, getting physical himself with the players to demonstrate technique and demonstrating a solid mix of aggressiveness when correcting mistakes and positivity when encouraging improvement. Think about it...the Gamecocks could have had their pick of about anyone they wanted (within reason) to take that job back in January if for no other reason than for the rest of their lives, that coach would have been able to list on their resume in the media guide that "helped develop" Clowney into a No. 1 pick, which basically makes that person instantly hireable for the rest of their lives, even if it isn't true.
And that's not even factoring in that it's an SEC job, that the line also is LOADED with talent and depth and that you're talking about a job with a program that currently sits among the nation's elite at No. 7 in the USA Today Coaches Poll.
So, let's just go ahead and assume Adams is good if for those reasons only, and after watching him work for two practices, I can tell you there are more reasons than those to like him a lot - not the very least of which is that you think Adams won't help Spurrier and crew in a huge way as they prepare for a North Carolina team Adams was only recently a member of? Let's just go ahead and assume he's already proving his worth there, too.
4. Kirk Botkin was a great hire.
You don't hear much about Botkin, but no assistant coach is under more intense scrutiny this fall camp than the second-year linebackers coach from Arkansas (and a brief stint in the Texas high school ranks). A former standout player with the Razorbacks - he was Arkansas' first All-SEC performer at tight end in 1992 and 1993 and made the school's All-Decade team), Botkin is fiery. He's intense. He's constantly moving. He coaches like a man who both loves his job and is hungry to keep it.
When fans talk about intensity from coaches, at South Carolina the standard answer is offensive line coach Shawn Elliott. But having watched Botkin closely the past two days, I can tell you that he gives Elliott a run for his money. Botkin is never still, never quiet. He has a large group of young players to coach-up - 12 at last count - and is clearly loving getting his hands dirty while doing so.
In fact, I would not be surprised if the linebackers play better than expected if only because of the quality of passionate, hands-on instruction they're getting from a coach who is excited to come to work every day and loves what he's doing. He's been a lot of fun to watch.
5. Connor Shaw is your starter.
OK, so this isn't ground-breaking or anything, but Shaw got the most reps by far last night of all the quarterbacks in the seven-on-sevens and in the scrimmage. Junior quarterback (and fan favorite) Dylan Thompson got his reps on Team B out of view of the public and media in attendance on the far side of the field, as freshman Brendan Nosovitch worked behind Shaw on Team A in the seven-on-sevens and in the scrimmage featuring the ones at the end of practice.
Shaw says he's healthier than he's been since he's enrolled at Carolina from the feet up through the shoulder, though from a passing standpoint he hasn't looked much different than he did last year. He has looked as quick, however, which is huge - for LONG stretches of last season and beyond, Shaw's feet constituted USC's only legitimate running threat when Marcus Lattimore wasn't available. As long as he keeps progressing and stays healthy, there's not reason Shaw won't be on the field the vast majority of the time, it seems...even if it's on plays, like the one USC practiced Saturday, where he lines up at wide receiver.
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