COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) Steve Spurrier's very comfortable with Dylan Thompson sliding into the spot left by South Carolina's all-time wins leader in quarterback Connor Shaw.
"Well, we'll have to keep Dylan healthy," Spurrier said Saturday.
It's not that Spurrier's frustrated or upset with his backups. He just understands talented and highly recruited reserves like Brendan Nosovitch and Connor Mitch haven't had time to shine with Shaw's success the past four seasons. Shaw led the Gamecocks to three straight 11-win seasons and left with a record of 27-5 overall as starter, 17-0 at home.
Thompson is a redshirt senior who's filled in the last two years when Shaw was injured. Thompson attained folk-hero status among Gamecocks fans in 2012, leading South Carolina to a 27-17 victory at rival Clemson when Shaw was out. Then Thompson stepped in during the team's Outback Bowl win over Michigan - the one best remembered for Jadeveon Clowney's helmet-popping hit - to throw the winning touchdown pass to Bruce Ellington when Shaw was reinjured late.
Thompson didn't get much face time last year. His biggest moment came at UCF last September when he threw for 261 yards and ran for a touchdown as the Gamecocks rallied to beat the Knights 28-25. Thompson thrown for 1,827 yards with 14 touchdowns and five interceptions during his career. He's also served as one of the team's leaders in the locker room, defusing what could've been a quarterback controversy after the 2012 season by stating he was proud to serve behind Shaw despite the calls by some fans that Thompson's downfield style was what the team needed instead of Shaw's read-option, running game.
"I've waited and now I'm ready," Thompson says.
He showed that in South Carolina's first scrimmage of spring practice. He was 7-of-7 passing for 61 yards on his only series that ended in Brandon Wilds' 5-yard touchdown run. Six of Thompson's throws went for first-down yardage and he looked in total control during the sequence.
"Dylan was sharp," Spurrier said. "Dylan knows what he's doing. He knows where everybody is. It's good to see him dump off to the backs underneath. He has a good awareness of where all the players are and how much time he's got. That's what good quarterbacks have."
Thompson says his improvement this spring comes from Spurrier's support. The coach, known for his short leash with quarterbacks who don't get the job done, stated flatly this offseason that Thompson had earned the starting job instead of keeping his senior quarterback on pins and needles during the summer.
"A lot of times there's some uncertainty," Thompson said. "Last year going in, I didn't really know my role and how much I was going to get to play. I know I have controls essentially of the offense," Thompson said.
Spurrier's given Thompson the freedom to check out of plays this spring if he's sees an odd coverage or a better option. Thompson's worked hard the first half of spring sessions to get as many reps as possible before the season opens August 28th at home against Texas A&M.
"I'm not going to be right every time, but that's why we're out here," Thompson said.
Those behind Thompson have plenty more ground to cover and time to improve before this season. Spurrier chose sophomore walk-on Perry Orth as his team's No. 2 quarterback after the scrimmage, ahead of scholarship passers Nosovitch and Mitch.
Orth completed six of 13 passes for 89 yards with an interception. He also caught a tipped ball in the end zone for a touchdown on a pass from receiver Pharoh Cooper for South Carolina's final touchdown. Mitch completed 5 of 8 for 95 yards while Nosovitch threw a pair of interceptions during his time.
Thompson is positive that those quarterbacks listed behind him will put in the work to make sure they're ready if needed next fall.
He says he'll make sure of that. He already spends extra time working with the offense, developing connections with pass catchers and fine tuning an offense that was 33-6 since 2011. Thompson's a little nervous about getting the keys to the car.
"The good thing is I feel like I'm getting a Ferrari instead of Volkswagen," he said, smiling.
And Thompson believes he can keep things heading down the winning road.