football

Quick position breakdown

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South Carolina held its second preseason practice on Saturday night and GamecockCentral.com was there. Here's my breakdown of how the Gamecocks looked at a few positions.
Quarterbacks
Standouts: If I had to name a starter based solely on Friday night's practice, I'd have picked Dylan Thompson without a second thought. But Saturday night belonged to Connor Shaw. The senior gunslinger started a bit rusty in seven on sevens - completing just half his passes and throwing a pick to Jimmy Legree - but he appeared to shake it off in time for the end-of-practice scrimmage. Despite being harassed by Jadeveon Clowney and the rest of the defensive line, Shaw stayed composed in the pocket, made good reads and placed his passes better than he did Friday.
Room to improve: Brendan Nosovitch was efficient in seven on sevens, but he frequently settled for check-downs to running backs and tight ends when his first option wasn't open downfield. He looked panicky in the end of practice scrimmage when the defensive line bore down on him, forcing a few passes and spiking a screen pass off the back of freshman tackle Na'Ty Rodgers at one point.
Tight ends
Standouts: The tight ends were solid Saturday night, but I liked what I saw from Kelvin Rainey. Despite spending the spring learning to play linebacker, Rainey played inspired at his old position in one-on-one drills. I loved his physicality, how he outmuscled USC's linebackers at the line to snag a pair of touchdowns. Rainey's buried in the depth chart, but that kind of effort won't go unnoticed.
Room to improve: Drew Owens was able to get open a few times in one-on-ones, but he also had several disappointing drops in space. Back from a knee injury a year ago, Owens has all the size and physical attributes to contribute right away, but he'll need to make those catches in practice to see playing time this season.
Defensive line
Standouts: Senior end Chaz Sutton and junior tackle J.T. Surratt were very impressive in the early drills, and Sutton looked even quicker than Jadeveon Clowney on the sled. But it was Clowney who stood out during the end of practice scrimmage. The junior end blew past the left tackle three of the first four snaps, then had to be pulled out so the rest of the team could actually practice. He re-entered the scrimmage a few plays later, only to get to the quarterback again on the next snap.
Room to improve: Sophomore end Mason Harris and freshman end Gerald Turner seemed to have a tough time with the sled drills early Saturday night, failing to match the same timing and tenacity as the rest of the line.
Secondary
Standouts: The defensive backs smothered Gamecock quarterbacks all practice long, forcing check-downs and positioning themselves well to swat away several passes. Cornerback Jimmy Legree snared two interceptions, free safety Brison Williams snatched one and batted down a couple more, and Victor Hampton blanketed his targets relentlessly.
Room to improve: No one defensive back had a tough time Saturday night, even in the seven on seven drills where the quarterbacks weren't facing a pass rush. However, the secondary did prove susceptible to a few over-the-middle slant routes and one deep ball to Damiere Byrd.
Special teams
Standouts: Tyler Hull shanked the first punt of the practice dangerously close to hitting a group of fans clustered on the sideline, but he boomed a few punts while working with the first team and looked sharp throughout after that.
Room to improve: The long snappers were solid for most of the practice, but there were a few high snaps, including one that sailed over the punter and out of the end zone. Stepping into Walker Inabinet's shoes is hard, but hearing the groaning of the crowd at Williams-Brice if that happens in a real game will be much, much worse.
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