COLUMBIA - Outside, it felt like winter conditioning hadn't ended.
The sun hid behind clouds, and the wind was frigid as rain forced South Carolina's football team indoors for its first spring practice. It was a "spring practice" on paper only, with temperatures dipping into the 30s on Thursday.
Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward didn't mind.
"It actually went better than we thought it would," Ward said. "We got a lot done, we got a lot accomplished. We went against each other a lot. A lot of formation adjustments. They run a lot of running plays and a lot of formations at us, and I thought the kids handled it well. So it was good to get one in.
"We wouldn't want to be outside in this weather because you'd be wasting a practice, but it was good to get inside and get one in."
The Gamecocks began their spring drills without their usual fanfare. No crowds. No media. Just coaches, instructions and plenty of repetition.
After postponing the scheduled start of its spring season Tuesday, South Carolina wanted to get at least one practice this week for two reasons.
First, it gave coaches a chance to make sure everyone was on the same page before players were released for spring break. The Gamecocks' next scheduled practice is March 18.
Coaches were also able to burn one of three required non-contact practices.
"Really, it's hard to evaluate my guys without pads," running back Everrett Sands said.
So the Gamecocks practiced without their pads Thursday. Later this month, they'll be ready for more action.
As the only returning starter along South Carolina's defensive line, senior tackle J.T. Surratt will have a different role in 2014.
Starting this spring, Surratt moves into a leadership position in the Gamecocks' defense. He is a quiet guy, not the kind to cause a commotion or get in a teammates' face.
Ward said Surratt can still lead.
"He's a senior, and we expect seniors to be leaders around here," Ward said. "But we don't just depend on those guys. J.T. is a quiet guy. He's not one that's going to be boisterous. He's gonna be similar to Chaz Sutton, but J.T. will be a leader. He's done a great job in the offseason from what I understand. So he'll do a good job of leading those guys in practice."
On the other side, South Carolina is trying to replace receiver Bruce Ellington. Production is one thing. Ellington led the Gamecocks the past two seasons in receiving yards.
But Ellington was also a calming voice inside South Carolina's locker room, especially among a young receiving corps.
"Certainly Nick Jones realizes that as a receiver he's got an opportunity to step up and make a name for himself," receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. said of USC's lone, healthy senior receiver this spring. "Pharoh Cooper is also a guy that's come along. Shaq (Roland's) got a chance to be a good player. So at receiver, hopefully we've got a good group, and they can develop through the spring."
Byrd recovering well from knee injury
Senior receiver Damiere Byrd will be unavailable this spring after having arthroscopic surgery on his knee in December.
Byrd was second on the team with 575 receiver yards despite missing the Capital One Bowl. He isn't able to do much, but Spurrier Jr. said the recovery process is coming along nicely.
Right now, the goal is for Byrd to gain more wait.
"Hopefully we can get him about that 160-(pound) mark, closer to 170" Spurrier Jr. said of one of the Gamecocks' smallest players. "But he's still the fastest player on the team. He's got a chance to have a big year, too.
"He's a fast, explosive, talented young man who should play a big role in our offense this year
Not waiting on freshmen
South Carolina has three healthy cornerbacks this spring after Ronnie Martin transferred. It's barely enough to fill one secondary, let alone a full depth chart.
When fall camp opens, Ward said incoming freshmen will be "somewhere" in South Carolina's plans for playing time. How much opportunity recent heralded signees like Chris Lammons, Wesley Green and D.J. Smith are given depend on the three already on roster - Rico McWilliams, Sidney Rhodes and Jamari Smith.
"We'll be fine. We've got some bodies we can put out there," Ward said. "Whether they're good enough to win a lot of ballgames in the SEC remains to be seen. That's why we signed four corners, and hopefully we can get all four of them here ready to play. We'll concentrate on Rico and Jamari and Sidney Rhodes and see how well they can do this spring, see if they can help us in the fall".