COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) -- A couple of thousand fans decked out in garnet and black lined the Bluff Road practice field across from Williams-Brice Stadium on a hot, muggy Wednesday night to watch
South Carolina open preseason camp for the 2011 football season
with a spirited two-hour workout.
The Gamecocks have high expectations after winning the SEC East
and reaching the conference title game a year ago for the first
time. They were the pick among the media and coaches to repeat as SEC East champions, a favorite spot they are not accustomed to having with Florida, Georgia and Tennessee in the same division.
"It was a pretty nice practice," said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who is entering his seventh year with the Gamecocks. "All of the coaches were really noticing the difference in our team speed. It was noticeable that our guys are faster than they've been before."
South Carolina went 9-5 last year and lost its final two games, a humbling 56-17 setback to eventual national champion Auburn in
the SEC title game and a 26-17 loss to Florida State in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
But the Gamecocks have nearly all of their starters back on both sides of the ball, plus the nation's top recruit in defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Quarterback Stephen Garcia was recently reinstated to the team after his fifth suspension and has started 28 straight games.
Spurrier said the fifth-year senior has done everything the university and coaches asked of him and has had a complete lifestyle change. Spurrier has insisted since the end of last year the competition between Garcia and sophomore Connor Shaw is open, but most expect Garcia to be under center in the season-opener against East Carolina in Charlotte on September 3.
The Gamecocks also have the 1-2 punch of sophomore running back
Marcus Lattimore and junior receiver Alshon Jeffery. Lattimore rushed for 1,197 yards and accounted for 19 touchdowns as a freshman while missing nearly 2 1/2 games to injury.
Jeffery set school records with 88 catches for 1,517 yards and nine touchdowns. Jeffery missed the opening practice after being involved in a car accident on Tuesday.
Spurrier said he is expected back in a couple of days. Defensively, cornerback Stephon Gilmore, defensive end Devin Taylor, and defensive tackle Travian Robertson received All-SEC preseason recognition, but the biggest attraction was the debut of Clowney.
"He plays too fast out here," Spurrier said. "We have to teach him practice speed. We try and let the quarterbacks throw the ball in these drills with no pads on but can't slow Jadeveon down. We have to take him out of the game to slow him down."