Spurrier: Shaw just needs to play

Spurrier: Shaw just needs to play

Since the suspension of fifth-year quarterback Stephen Garcia, all eyes in Gamecock Nation have been on sophomore quarterback Connor Shaw. Head football coach Steve Spurrier and quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus say the main thing missing from Shaw's repertoire can only come with experience.

Ever since Stephen Garcia was indefinitely suspended two weeks ago, the focus of the South Carolina fan base as been on sophomore quarterback Connor Shaw.

Shaw has responded to being the No. 1 quarterback in practice with two of his best practices of the spring sandwiching a 17-of-27 day for 176 yards and a touchdown in one half of play in the Garnet and Black Spring Game.

With no news on whether Garcia will be allowed back on the team, South Carolina could potentially go from one of the most settled quarterback depth charts in the SEC to one of the least experienced if the fifth-year quarterback can't play.

Despite his troubles and up-and-down career, Garcia has started 28 straight games and a team-high 30 career games. A quick glance around the league shows no other quarterback comes close to that experience.

But if Garcia isn't available, the Gamecocks will turn to Shaw, who was hand-picked by quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus for the Gamecocks' signing class of 2010.

In his one full year on campus since enrolling early last January, Shaw -- a coach's son -- has been the model student athlete at quarterback and is a considered a football junky by the staff who takes his off-the-field studying of the game very seriously.

But for all his positives, Shaw has thrown just 33 passes in the nine games he appeared in as a true freshman last year. His most important experience came in two drives late in a loss at Auburn. Shaw was inserted into the game late and drove the offense deep into Auburn territory before each drive ended in an interception. It was a learning experience under tremendous pressure he says he still draws on.

"He just needs to play," Mangus said earlier this spring. "Connor's biggest thing is playing. Any quarterback, I'm a big believer in that you've got to play. You can watch film, you can do all that, but until you do it out here with 22 guys moving around at the speed that they move in our league -- that's where all the improvement comes. He'll get better with every rep."

Shaw didn't have a particularly flashy start to the spring, but looks poised to finish strong as the Gamecocks complete their spring with a final practice Thursday afternoon.

"I think this spring is important for me as far as getting reps and experience," Shaw said following the spring game. "I feel like I'm a lot more comfortable than I was earlier."

"There's no real comparison [between this spring and last spring] - my knowledge of the playbook, defenses, adapting to the speed of the game - I feel real comfortable out there."

And that comfort has been obvious at times.

"He's had a good spring and, as you can see, when he takes his steps and throws it on time he can zip it in there," Spurrier says. "He can make all the throws."

Other times his inexperience has shown.

One of the most difficult parts of Shaw's transition to the next level has been the move from the pure shot-gun-based spread offense Shaw ran at Flowery Branch High School to the "multiple" or hybrid offense he's learning in Columbia.

With the influence of Mangus, and Shaw's running ability, the Gamecocks would use more of the spread if Shaw is their quarterback. But playing quarterback for Spurrier also means taking snaps from under center and learning the footwork and timing of his famous passing game.

"He's only 6-1, so [when] you drop back with 6-6 linemen, it takes a while to get a comfort level with that," Mangus said. "That's something that he's got to keep working on but he seems to be getting more comfortable every day."

That also means learning when to use his speed to take off or extend plays, and when to stick with the play and deliver a pass from within the pocket.

"We just have a tough time of our quarterbacks getting it out of their hands," Spurrier said after the spring game. "They still want to hold it too long a lot of times out there today."

"That's what he did in high school," Mangus said. "Just like Stephen (Garcia) -- He used to like to take off all the time because that's what he did in high school. It takes time to break habits."

But Shaw seems determined to break those habits. Spend any time around Spurrier, Mangus or Shaw and the importance of this summer for the Gamecocks' quarterbacks will inevitably come up. For as much as the fans will debate the quarterback situations now, that's when the strength of the position this season will truly be decided.

"I think you're going to be rusty in spring practice - that's really what it's for," Shaw said. "And you get with your receivers and work on it and continue to work on it in the summer and lead into fall camp. But as far as timing, we'll get that down."

"He just needs to take snap after snap after snap," Spurrier says. "That's why we practice so much. That's why quarterbacks, they've got to throw all summer and throw to receivers and know where all their receivers are and know where the defensive guys are."

"Anything he tells me to work on," Shaw says of his goals for the summer. "Every aspect of my game I think I can work on getting better at. I've just got to prepare myself for whenever I'm called on."

"Our quarterbacks have got a lot to learn; they aren't there yet, but we think they can get there," Spurrier said. "Connor needs to have a wonderful summer, if he is our quarterback."

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