August 6, 2011

Shaw not content with backup tag



While the crowd waited and then breathed a sigh of relief as one quarterback trotted through the practice gates, another simply kept to routine.

"Like I would any other day," sophomore quarterback Connor Shaw answered, on how he's approaching preseason camp. "I'm out here competing to the best of my ability and my job is just to be a competitor."

Wednesday's first day of South Carolina football practice had an overflow crowd watching and applauding fifth-year senior Stephen Garcia as he came through with the rest of the QBs. Although it had already been announced that Garcia was fully reinstated to the team, after five suspensions, there was always the chance that the signal-caller wouldn't show up.

But he was there, as were Shaw and the rest of the backups. Garcia picked up where he left off, rotating in and out with Shaw in the passing drills, and continued to be at least penciled in to the starting job, although coach Steve Spurrier is adamant there will be a battle for it.

"It will be Stephen and Connor," Spurrier said that first night. "Those two should provide our quarterback play this year."

Shaw, as he has since enrolling at USC, remained patient and waiting for his chance. He knows he'll get some snaps this season; how many depends on his progress.

"Me and Garcia know how to handle that," Shaw dismissed. "There's going to be competition in any college you go to. We're not worrying about that."

Even though there were times during the summer where, he admitted, Shaw thought that this might be the one time Garcia wouldn't get another chance.

"It was in the back of my head, maybe, but I was out here competing, just like everybody else, getting better at the things coach Spurrier wanted to work on," he said.

The expression says that the most popular player on a football team is the backup quarterback, but at USC, perhaps not. While Shaw is no doubt well-regarded - his work ethic, coaches and teammates say, is amazing and it's hard to get Shaw to do something other than football - he's not the charismatic, gunslinging Garcia.

The troublesome career of Garcia only seems to add to his legend, the disciplinary incidents always being forgiven because of what he can do on the gridiron. There's no doubt he has somewhat stained the Gamecocks' program because of off-the-field problems, but there's also no doubt whatsoever that every player on the team respects what he does on the field as much as they may dislike his actions off it.

Garcia will always have supporters in his corner, especially as Spurrier has said that none of Garcia's offenses have been truly damaging, but just the products of "stupid" decisions. And even though Garcia missed most of spring practice, he still seems to have the heads-up on Shaw, who won the Most Improved Quarterback award in the spring but said he didn't have that great of a session.

"A decent one," he described. "Not the one I was hoping I was going to have. But I made some strides over the summer and thought I got really better, and I'm trying to prove that during camp."

Shaw earned Spurrier's kudos when he first arrived, carrying his playbook or a ball around campus, watching extra film and dragging his roommate - center T.J. Johnson - out on the dormitory lawn during off periods for extra snapping. "Connor has taken the same approach he's had since he came in here," Johnson said. "Connor's always been the kind of guy who comes in and works hard. He's a coach's son, so he's used to getting drilled. He's done everything he's supposed to since he's been here."

That's why he immediately saw the field last season, although as the season progressed, it was mostly as a running option. Still, Shaw completed 23 of his 33 passes for 223 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions, and when Garcia twice backed into Spurrier's doghouse during the spring, it was Shaw's show.

Shaw got the majority of snaps and mixed and matched his good and bad plays, tossing a few touchdowns and textbook completions, only to throw a few too many interceptions and airballs well over the intended receiver's head. As his bio reads, though, Shaw remained vigilant toward improving.

"Thousands," Shaw estimated as the number of balls he threw over the summer. "Everything to get connection down with receivers better. Drops, play-action, going over the playbook, things like that."

It's Shaw's best chance to claim his future. He knows that with two years of playing time, however much or seldom it may be, he has the inside track to starting next year. Even with Dylan Thompson set to enter his third year, or (what should be) redshirt freshman Tanner McEvoy and true freshman Brendan Nosovitch on campus next season, Shaw should be given the ball from the start.

He knows that he has a chance to be the guy, perhaps as soon as Sept. 3 if he can out-duel Garcia over the next month. Garcia will always have the experience factor on Shaw, but Spurrier has never been shy about going with the hot hand - think Blake Mitchell/Syvelle Newton, Chris Smelley/Garcia or even the ill-fated Tommy Beecher experiment for a summer.

Shaw is ready to be a backup or starter, whichever he earns. He's working as hard as he can to be the latter.

"We just want to come out here and play football," Shaw said."

A popular opinion for a player who may soon be the most popular player on the team, which would be very well-deserved.

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