COLUMBIA - Lorenzo Ward had walked barely 10 steps off the football field after South Carolina's first preseason practice, but he'd seen enough to fuel already high expectations.
"I think there's a little something different about this team," the Gamecocks defensive coordinator said.
Under the lights, Ward was impressed with what he witnessed Friday night. He was heading toward his office, ready to study the film and further evaluate the practice.
But what had Ward smiling was something that can't be seen on film.
"I just think there's something special about them," Ward continued. "I think the way that they're about business. There's no big-name players on this team, and so they're like family and they play as a team. I think it's something special when you do that."
Less than four weeks from their first game, there are pressing questions for the Gamecocks to answer this month. None are more important than starting cornerback and the defensive line, and that can be troubling. In this age of college football, it's never good to have concerns about the secondary and pass rush.
Still, first impressions set a tone. On Friday, with fans lining the Bluff Road practice fields in downtown Columbia, the first impressions were strong. Even Steve Spurrier - who doesn't mind voicing displeasure - praised his players.
"Attitude-wise, we're in good shape," he said.
Spurrier has often mentioned good team chemistry during the offseason, and his players echoed their coach after their first practice. Over the past several months, it formed out of necessity. The Gamecocks know they can't rely on one Jadeveon Clowney game-changing highlight here, or a Connor Shaw touchdown there.
With no "big-name players," the players have to play as one.
"I think this year, we know we don't have Jadeveon, Vic (Hampton), all those other guys," senior defensive back Brison Williams said. "So the whole defense is just trying to play around each other and build their chemistry together. I think it's very special."
Receiver Nick Jones said he's never seen a team get along so well off the field, and he's been at South Carolina five years. It goes beyond simple things like offseason workouts. Players are constantly texting each other, Jones said. They eat dinners together, just like family.
"This feels a lot different," Jones said, comparing to the past.
So Spurrier was pleased, but the Head Ball Coach also kept his perspective. In the SEC, a good attitude only goes so far. Talent wins games. Spurrier sees the question marks on his team's roster, and he knows they need answers.
They'll come in time. There's a long way to go before Texas A&M comes to town for the opener. This weekend is just the start of the preseason. Players won't put pads on for a couple days.
Then Spurrier will see where his team really stands.
"They've got good team chemistry," Spurrier said, "but that just means they all get along with each other. We'll find out if they all play very well."
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