SCarolina opens fall practice in promising season
By JEFFREY COLLINS
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier was happy with the Gamecocks first practice of the fall on Friday. But he's had plenty of reasons to be upbeat this offseason.
There were no questions after practice about who was going to start at quarterback or the off-field behavior of his main signal caller for the first time in several years. And star running back Marcus Lattimore was back after missing the last six games of last year with torn ligaments in his knee.
Lattimore wore a heavy brace on his left knee, but he made cuts and showed a burst of speed after catching several passes. The several hundred fans that watched the opening practice clapped as the junior jogged during warm ups and gave him a good natured moan when he dropped an easy catch.
"Marcus was running around full go as we expected. I asked him if he could do everything, and he said, `Yea, I'm doing everything coach,'" Spurrier said.
Lattimore didn't speak to reporters after practice. He was the SEC freshman of the year in 2010 running for 1,197 yards and 17 touchdowns. He was hurt last season blocking for receiver Bruce Ellington downfield, but Spurrier and his teammates say the knee is fully recovered.
"He's one of the best running backs in the league. We're excited he is back to help our offense," Ellington said.
Spurrier said inked-in starting quarterback Connor Shaw's passes looked crisp Friday. The junior hit the weight room so much this season that Spurrier said he had to tell him to slow down on the lifting because he was looking like a linebacker.
Ellington said Shaw got better during the spring and looks like he kept working through the summer.
"He did everything, watching film - getting better. The little things, that's what makes him a better quarterback," Ellington said.
The Gamecocks are coming off their first 11-win season in program history and remain a legitimate threat to make the Southeastern Conference title game, an unusual occurrence during their 20 years in the league.
Spurrier hasn't downplayed his team's chances for a historic season during the summer. Negative comments have been few and far between. He ragged his team's offseason workouts a little earlier in the week, but said Friday that his players looked like they were in good shape for the first practice.
One surprise on the field Friday was quarterback Tanner McEvoy, who was arrested less than a week ago in Charlotte, N.C., and charged with speeding and driving after consuming while under age 21. North Carolina law bans drivers under 21 from operating a motor vehicle if they have any alcohol in their bloodstream. The charge is classified as a misdemeanor.
McEvoy sat out last season, but is expected to compete to back up Shaw. Spurrier said McEvoy's punishment will be the fine he will likely pay.
"You want him suspended for having a beer and he's underage?" Spurrier asked a reporter. "How many football players would be playing if they had a beer and were underage?"
Updated August 3, 2012