HOOVER, Ala. — The plan to take South Carolina’s starting quarterback for the past season and a half and experiment with him at another position was hatched by none other than the incumbent himself, Connor Shaw.
Shaw, a senior whose nimble feet have long been an asset to the Gamecocks, recently approached his position coach, G.A. Mangus, and proposed tinkering with new, but not permanent roles — running back and wide receiver.
Mangus and head coach Steve Spurrier, who calls the plays and works extensively with the quarterbacks, both liked the idea. It would allow them to play Shaw and junior Dylan Thompson at the same time, and for their styles to complement each other. Thompson is more of a traditional pocket passer than Shaw, who ran an option offense in high school.
“We’ve talked about me motioning in and out of the backfield, playing a little receiver, playing a little running back,” Shaw said Tuesday at the Southeastern Conference media days. “I think I’m athletic and fast enough to do that, smart enough to do that. I’m excited about it. I’ve run some routes and Dylan’s thrown to me (during seven-on-seven summer workouts). Nothing too in-depth for now.”
Shaw has been USC’s starter since Stephen Garcia was kicked off the team midway through the 2011 season. The job was Shaw’s for the rest of that season. Injuries to his shoulder and foot resulted in Thompson seeing action in 2012. When he played, he often shined.
With Shaw limited by a stress fracture in his left foot, Thompson played the entire regular-season finale victory at Clemson and threw the game-winning touchdown pass against Michigan in the Outback Bowl. Shaw missed all of spring practices because of foot surgery, and Thompson played well enough that Spurrier told both quarterbacks to expect to play this autumn.
Shaw said the notion of him playing running back and/or receiver is not just frivolous midsummer talk from Spurrier, who is trying to spark an offense that compiled modest numbers while USC went 11-2 in each of the past two seasons.
“It’s absolutely reality,” Shaw said. “He was all for it. We’ve actually put some schemes together.”
Spurrier brought up Shaw trying the new positions unprompted Tuesday when asked a question about Shaw’s foot being healed.
“We (could) probably put two quarterbacks on the field at the same time,” Spurrier said. “(Shaw) is solid and he can carry the ball, take a pounding. Dylan has developed into a good drop-back passer. We’ve got to make sure we use both of them the best we can.”
At first glance, the idea could make sense. USC lost running back Marcus Lattimore and co-No. 1 receiver Ace Sanders to early NFL entry, though receiver Bruce Ellington returns. Shaw is clearly one of the Gamecocks’ best athletes. If the coaches are serious about wanting to play Thompson, doing it while leaving Shaw on the sideline might not maximize the full scope of Shaw’s skills.
Shaw has played receiver before, as a high school sophomore, when he had 1,200 receiving yards and 15 touchdown catches. Moreover, Mangus and Spurrier have both dealt with quarterback rotations. Before coming to USC, Mangus was the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee State from 2006-08, and he rotated a mobile quarterback like Shaw with a pocket passer like Thompson.
Spurrier frequently platooned quarterbacks at Florida, most famously in 1997, when he rotated Doug Johnson and Noah Brindise while leading the Gators to a 32-29 win over second-ranked Florida State in the regular season finale — the Seminoles’ only loss that year.
“We’ve bought into it and we’re trusting his judgment,” Shaw said of Spurrier’s two-quarterback plan.
Shaw’s foot is 100 percent healthy, and he’s been cleared to work out since the end of May. He went to Louisiana last weekend to be a counselor at the Manning Passing Academy, and he took time to step back and listen when Peyton Manning offered pointers to a group of campers. Now, Shaw and Thompson will try to boost a USC offense that ranked No. 84 nationally last season with 376.5 yards per game and No. 73 in 2011 with 373.5 yards per game.
“Whether or not we’re going to play both of them and how we do it, I don’t know,” Spurrier said. “They’re both capable. Hopefully it’s going to work out.”