A year ago, South Carolina wide receiver Bryan Edwards worked his way into a spot on the first-team roster in the spring, and used that as a springboard to a productive freshman year.
Can OrTre Smith pull off the feat?
Both are tall, athletic receivers from the South Carolina coast, among the top prospects in the state. Both suffered notable injuries as high school seniors. Both worked their way to the top unit as early enrollees.
And both made an impression early on.
“Really proud of him,” Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp said of Smith. “A mid-year guy coming in, which is always difficult, and adjusting to the transition very well academically, very well socially and certainly from a football standpoint. He had surgery on his ankle in December and he’s recovered extremely well off of it. He’s going to help our football team next year.”
The most immediate help he can provide is as a reliable outside receiver. A year ago, Edwards and Deebo Samuel took the majority of the reps, and when they weren’t healthy, the team cycled through a run of true freshmen and one low-impact veteran with poor results.
The team played almost exclusively with a tight end filling the role of No. 3 receiver.
If the 6-foot-4, 229-pound freshman can play close to his potential, it could let the team move Samuel inside, a spot where he could match up with slower defenders.
It won’t happen overnight.
“I think they’re going to bring him along and he’s going to be ready,” Edwards said. “OrTre Smith’s a big guy. All you’ve got to do is look at him to see he’s going to be a football player. He’s going to do tremendous things here. It just takes time.”
Smith was quiet for most of the spring game, but beat reserve defensive back Demetrius Smalls for a 42-yard touchdown in the waning seconds. Smith went the first nine or 10 practices of spring in a non-contact jersey, but was full-go and throwing blocks in the game.
It was a tall order for OrTre Smith to pick up everything he did in March. Teammates say he’s got a ways to go. How that progresses will determine if he can bring an extra dimension to USC’s offense.
“He’s still got some learning to do, just as far as the plays,” USC quarterback Jake Bentley said. “He’s a bright guy, but asking a guy to come in and learn the offense in three weeks is going to be tough for anybody. He’s a big body, so he’s able to use his body really well, and as he just continues to get stronger and faster, he’s really going to be special.”