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July 27, 2013

Could Williams catch Davis or Wilds?

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David Williams is undeniably the "X" factor for South Carolina at the well-stocked running back position heading into the start of preseason camp on Aug. 2.

The top two ball carriers for the Gamecocks in 2013 are firmly established - Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds - and something akin to an earthquake measuring high on the Richter Scale - such as a catastrophic injury - would be required to upset the apple cart.

But the number three running back job is up for grabs among four candidates - Shon Carson, Kendric Salley, Jamari Smith and Williams - and the latter has a puncher's chance of landing the gig despite being a true freshman.

Possessing a rare blend of size (6-foot-1, 200 pounds), strength and blazing speed (sub 4.4), Williams hopes to make his mark early in preseason camp.

"My expectation is to come in and contribute to the team," Williams told Gamecock Central recently. "I'm just coming in trying to place. I think I'm a versatile running back with speed, power and all that stuff."

What brought Williams, who grew up in Philadelphia and gained 1,904 yards and scored 23 touchdowns as a senior at Imhotep Charter High last year, to Columbia? The opportunity to play in the SEC was high on the board, of course.

"It's something different. When I came here, I loved the vibe and I just had to get away," Williams said. "Playing with the best of the best in the SEC was a big factor, too. I watched a lot of SEC games. I'm not used to seeing guys so big. When I first saw (Jadeveon) Clowney, I was amazed. How could he be so big and move so well. People back home have kidded me by saying that I'm going to have to block Clowney in practice."

Like most talented young running backs starting out in their careers, learning (and mastering) the blitz protection schemes is perhaps the toughest challenge they face early on. As far as carrying the ball, Williams is regarded by most analysts as the total package, which makes sense considering major schools such as Ohio State, Tennessee, Auburn, Miami and Arizona State extended offers.

"I'm not going to hold him back," USC running backs coach Everette Sands said Thursday at the annual media golf outing at Cobblestone Park. "He is going to have an opportunity. The guys ahead of him are experienced. But if he's good enough to come in and beat them out, then I'm going to give him that opportunity.

"Just because you're the most talented guy doesn't mean you're the best guy. A lot of factors come into play. It's not just being the fastest and quickest guy. You have to be able to run the ball and you have to be able to block in passing situations and you have to be able to catch the ball."

While Williams has a long ways to go to catch Davis or Wilds on the depth chart, the separation between the latter two is microscopic, with the former holding the slightest of edges entering preseason camp. Certainly, Wilds, who has three 100-yard games on his resume, could erase the gap quickly with a series of solid practices starting Aug. 2.

"There wasn't much difference. It was just at the end (of spring practice), Mike was making a few more plays than Brandon," Sands said. "Not that Brandon wasn't making plays, Mike just made a few more, so that gave him a little edge. But there's not a lot of difference between the two. It's not like Mike is one and Brandon is a distant second. I expect both of them to be heavily in the mix."

Considering Wilds redshirted last season due to an ankle injury and hasn't carried the football in a game for 20 months (his last rushing attempt came against Clemson in late November 2011), he is chomping at the bit to get going.

"He's done a great job in the offseason," Sands said. "And he did a great job in the winter program before spring ball. He's work very hard."

When the regular season starts, Davis and Wilds could share carries equally. At that point, whichever one is more productive will get more opportunities as the season goes along.

At the moment, Sands feels he has the best of all worlds with Davis and Wilds both healthy.

"I'm looking at it as more you're quick, you're big and fast," Sands smiled. "That's a good combination of backs to have."

Davis improved by leaps and bounds in the few months since the bowl game, Sands said.

"Mike Davis is a totally different guy today than he was when we played Clemson," Sands said. "He has matured in passing situations, he sees more. Even though he played a good bit late in the season, he wasn't seeing everything. In the spring, he started seeing the whole field and the game slowed down for him."

Steve Spurrier views the battle as very similar to the competition that cycles endlessly at other positions. His coaching philosophy is simple and straightforward - the best running back will play the most snaps.

"Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds are two really good backs we believe are going to play very well," Spurrier said Thursday. "But what any coach does is you get two running backs ready to go and the one that is making the most yards is going to get the most carries. We're not into just rotating series. One will play and the other one will play and we'll give them plenty of opportunities.

"Then we'll find out which one is making the most yards and breaking tackles. But they'll start out fairly even. Who starts the first game? They'll sort of compete for that maybe through preseason practice. But they're both going to play. Then we'll let it work its way out."

Shon Carson (RSo.)
Mike Davis (So.)
Connor McLaurin (Jr.)(FB)
Kendric Salley (RFr.)
Jamari Smith (Fr.)
Brandon Wilds (RSo.)
David Williams (Fr.)

Walk-ons: Jordan Diaz (FB), Garrison Gist (FB), Devin Potter, Ty Sutherland (FB).

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