COLUMBIA, S.C. -- The first thing you notice about South Carolina junior quarterback Connor Shaw is that he's a little bigger and a little more sculpted through the shoulders.
He's up about 12 pounds to 212 pounds and says he's a lot stronger than he was a year ago.
"I had to get bigger and stronger to take the pounding," said Shaw, whose 135 rushing attempts were the second most on the team last season.
His physique isn't the only thing that's different this spring. So is his mindset.
This is Shaw's football team. He's the starting quarterback, and everybody knows it. None of this necessarily means that he's the star of the team. That role is reserved for junior tailback Marcus Lattimore, who's still recovering from a knee injury that cut his 2011 season in half.
But whereas Shaw was jockeying with Stephen Garcia for the starting job a year ago at this time -- with some on the team lining up behind Shaw and others lining up behind Garcia -- there are no divisions this spring. It's Shaw's team, and the Gamecocks close the spring on Saturday with their annual Garnet & Black spring game and do so without any questions resonating at the quarterback position.
"It's totally different for me this time around," said Shaw, who beat out Garcia for the starting job last season, but then lost his job midway through the season opener. "That comes with game experience, how comfortable you are, and I really feel comfortable. I can take all the reps this spring and know going into the fall where everything stands. Last year, Garcia was the quarterback the previous two or three years. But, now, they know I was there last year and have two more years.
"I feel like I'll be more of a catalyst than I have been in the past."
Shaw, who stepped back in for Garcia following the Auburn loss, couldn't have been better down the stretch last season. In his last three games, including wins over Clemson and Nebraska, he completed 74.5 percent of his passes for 657 yards, eight touchdowns and one interception. He also rushed for 239 yards and three more touchdowns.
Even South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who's never easy to please when it comes to quarterback play, is excited by the way Shaw has developed once the Gamecocks geared the offense around what he does best.
"There are a lot of things he can do better," Spurrier said. "But, man, he finished up last year about as well as you can. He got a lot of passing in this spring, too, and works at it exactly the way you'd hope your quarterback would. We're still working with him. He’s done some things a lot better. He needs to get better with his look-offs and speeding up his delivery, which he’s done."
Shaw's priority this spring was to become a more efficient passer from the pocket. Everybody knows he can take off and run. But can he stand back there and beat teams throwing from the pocket?
"My biggest deal coming into the spring was my pocket awareness and looking down the field more and scanning everything," said Shaw, who passed for 14 touchdowns and rushed for eight more last season. "I’m not going to take my legs away because that’s a major part of my game, but I need to be better in the pocket and better at sliding around in the pocket and finding open guys."
While most of the questions this spring have focused on who would replace Alshon Jeffery as South Carolina's go-to receiver, Shaw points to who the Gamecocks will be getting back in the fall -- Lattimore.
"He changes the whole game," Shaw said. "You could tell when he went down that it took us four or five games to get rolling. He’s such a leader out there, and people look up to him. He’s a leader by example and a very hard worker, very humble. He’s just one of those leaders that you need to have out there, and when he’s not on the field, it changes things."