COLUMBIA - Before he moved to the top line on South Carolina's quarterback depth chart, Dylan Thompson had credentials any backup would envy.
His resume was stuffed with big wins on the road. His size was prototypical, standing 6-3 and 220 pounds. His ability to pass in the pocket was proven.
On the surface, there wasn't much Thompson needed to change when he became former quarterback Connor Shaw's replacement. Yet, Thompson has changed. He said being the starter feels different than before.
"It's been a lot of fun," Thompson said. "Last year, when I went in, I felt like, 'It's gotta be a big play soon, or I'm not coming back in sometimes.' This year, it's a different ballgame. We've just got to move the chains and get first down, and we'll wind up in the end zone. That's what we're trying to do, and I think we've done a pretty good job of it this spring."
Thompson's propensity for the big play was high risk, high reward last season. At times, he sparked the Gamecocks' offense. In last season's opener against North Carolina, Thompson threw one pass. It was completed for a 29-yard touchdown.
Those big plays were nice, but they could come at a cost. Thompson threw three interceptions last season, almost one for every 30 passes. He threw two interceptions the previous season, one for every 63 passes. His efficiency paled to Shaw, who had 24 touchdown passes and one interception in 284 passes last season.
Now, Thompson doesn't have to take the risk. He knows his job is safe. On Saturdays this fall, he'll be behind center. The increased responsibility comes with peace of mind.
Thompson shined this spring with short and intermediate passes, relying on check downs and timing routes. They require patience and, even more importantly, a deep understanding of the offense. Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier was pleased with what he saw, almost never offering public criticism.
"He does make good, quick decisions," Spurrier said after Thompson completed 7 of 10 passes for 99 yards in the spring game last weekend. "He is, I think, a good pocket passer, but he can run out of there occasionally also. Hopefully, to keep him healthy, he needs to get the ball out of his hands quickly and make quick decisions. I think Dylan's good at that, so we'll see how it works out on Aug. 28."
South Carolina needs Thompson to be healthy this fall. The gap between him and the new backup committee - the trio of Connor Mitch, Perry Orth and Brendan Nosovitch - is greater than the distance between Thompson and Shaw last year. There is talent behind Thompson on the quarterback depth chart, but it is raw and untapped.
With Thompson, South Carolina's offense could once again be explosive. But patience is the foundation, just as it was last year.
"I think being here has been great," Thompson said. "I've been around all those 11-win seasons, and I've seen the work guys have put in. The way coaches coach, and the players we have now, a lot of those guys have been here as well. It's just a cool spot to be in because you have those guys around you.
"If I was coming back, no offensive linemen returning, no skill guys coming back, it could be a different story up here. But I've got guys around me, and our coaches do a great job of getting us prepared. We're just going to have fun, man. I think we've done a good job of that this spring."
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