South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley went through some of the more typical compliments as he ran down freshman wide receiver OrTre Smith’s August thus far.
He’s back healthy. It’s better than the spring. That means he can play fast.
And then, he almost sighed out the next thing, a tone conveying the kind of being impressed that almost takes the air out of you.
“He’s a big dude,” Bentley said. “He’s a big joker.”
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He is indeed big, if not a little less big than during the spring. At a listed 6-foot-4, he’s tied for the tallest wide receiver on the Gamecocks roster. At 219 pounds, he’s still the heaviest, even after dropping 10 from his listed spring weight.
Some of that might have been because of the ankle injury that ended his senior season at Wando High School and limited him early in spring at USC. Wide receivers coach Bryan McClendon warned that keeping his weight in the right range will require vigilance, but he brushed off the notion Smith could find himself in another spot down the road.
“OrTre’s going to naturally be a big-bodied kid,” McClendon said. “So the biggest thing is just making sure we’re doing a great job of nutrition and making sure that 220, 225 pounds doesn’t turn into 240. Some of that is genetics. What we can help, we want to do that. So now we can keep our mobility and be able to move and get in and out of breaks.”
Smith had 84 catches for 1,364 yards and 18 touchdowns in his last healthy high school season, and he started on defense before he got hurt as a senior. Once the top prospect in the state in his class got into the swing of things in March and April, he did well enough to work with the first team in the spring game when a few more veteran receivers were nursing injuries.
The early reviews in fall camp have been positive, at least one a little beyond that.
“He’s using his body very well,” junior wide receiver Terry Googer said. “He’s throwing people around and making plays and tough catches.”
McClendon has said the biggest things he wants from his bigger receivers is to be able to beat man coverage and win outside one-on-one battles. Smith seems to have shown that thus far, though fall camp is far from real games.
And after a summer in the program, he’s improved something basic.
“The one thing I’ve been real impressed with him is just knowing what to do,” McClendon said. “I think him being here for so long, it has helped him. That’s the biggest thing that slows guys down is just knowing what to do. Once we do that, we can figure out exactly what to do.”
The question of playing time and targets for 2017 remains a tricky one as USC is flush with options.
Bryan Edwards and Deebo Samuel took the majority of the snaps late in 2016. Chavis Dawkins had some moments while getting thrown into the fire as a freshman last year, and Googer is a veteran at the position.
Samuel could move inside some, but there’s a logjam of players there, with Randrecous Davis and Shi Smith showing well in camp and a slew of tight ends who can flex out.
It’ll be more of a competition than a season ago, in part because of players such as OrTre Smith. He brings the size that caught Bentley’s attention, and after McClendon made clear Smith’s future was at wide receiver, he pointed out what a big guy can do at that spot.
“There was a guy here named Alshon Jeffery, he was about 235,” McClendon said. “Pretty good guy. Now he ended up trimming back down, but sometimes those big bodies are not bad.”