Offseason work helps Thompson earn backup QB job at South Carolina
COLUMBIA — After spring practices ended, South Carolina quarterback Dylan Thompson talked with his father about what he hoped to accomplish in the coming months as he tried to get a firmer grasp on his role as Connor Shaw’s understudy.
“I was thinking that spring ball is roughly a month,” Thompson said. “Then you’ve got three months in the summer. So if you have a good spring, then take three months off and try to come back here in camp and be prepared, it’s not going to happen.
“I told him that I just wanted to work as hard as I possibly could for these next three months of summer and be fully prepared for fall camp.”
Thompson, a sophomore, made good on his conversation with his dad. After a summer of hard work, he arrived at preseason practices a steadier player and will enter the season as the No. 2 quarterback. Though Thompson has played in just four games and thrown two passes, all last season, USC coaches said they are comfortable with putting him into a game if something happens to Shaw, a junior who is entering his first full season as the starter.
“You can see a confidence level in Dylan that is different than it had been,” said quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus. “With knowledge comes power, as they say. He’s got a really good grasp of the offense, and when you know it inside and out, the game slows down for you. And you kind of carry yourself, in a good way.
“You saw that right away. Dylan is ready to play, and I think he’s showed and made some really good plays here early in camp.”
Summer workouts are voluntary and unsupervised by coaches, but most players participate. Thompson and Shaw worked out in one-on-one pass skeleton drills with their wide receivers and seven-on-seven sessions against the defense. Those were more informal than a game, obviously, but Thompson said he and Shaw tried to mimic game speed by having a two-and-a-half or three-second clock in their heads — the time span in which they realistically must release the ball.
“That’s what we focused on this summer, really getting it out of our hands as quick as possible and making the right reads,” Thompson said.
Thompson also spent hours watching video of Vanderbilt, USC’s opening night opponent on Aug. 30, and of himself. He concentrated on eliminating back-to-back mistakes on the same read or play — something that head coach Steve Spurrier, who is heavily involved with the quarterbacks, has talked to him about.
“I would (make a mistake) in practice, then go into a scrimmage and do the same thing, knowing exactly right when I did it, what I did wrong,” Thompson said. “I wanted to eliminate that and just be a smarter quarterback. It sounds simple, but it’s tough to do sometimes That’s what I improved. I tried to work as hard as I possibly could, and I feel like I did that.”
Said Mangus: “You’re going to make mistakes playing quarterback. That’s the name of the game, is making them when you’re young. The good ones, and the guys who are going to end up playing for you down the road, they’re the ones that don’t make them twice. I think that’s where we’re getting. We’re getting a group of guys that learn from it.”
Barring unforeseen changes, Shaw will be the starter for the next two seasons. Thompson will have a shot at the job as a fifth-year senior in 2014. By then, USC likely will also have two highly regarded recruits in the quarterback competition — current true freshman Brendan Nosovitch and 2013 commitment Connor Mitch.
If nothing else, Mangus wouldn’t mind seeing them learn from the dedication shown by Thompson, who came to USC as just a two-star player, according to Rivals.com
“His progress over the three years now has been really, really good,” Mangus said. “He’s a hard worker. He’s got all those things we want. He puts the time in. He’s really made himself a good, solid player that is ready to play. I tell those guys all the time at the end of the spring: With a good summer you can really make some strides in that three-month period.”