South Carolina broke its roster into scout team players and regulars on Wednesday.
That means the No. 6 Gamecocks are done with preseason camp and will begin their preparations for the Aug. 29 game against North Carolina at Thursday’s practice. On a more personal note, it means hurt feelings as some members of the freshman class who were hoping to play this season were given scout team jerseys, a good sign those dreams will have to wait a year.
For the Gamecocks’ defensive players, it was mostly a happy day thanks to the ongoing evolution of fast-paced college offenses, South Carolina defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said.
“If the game was still in between the tackles, you would still see a lot of kids redshirted. Now that the game is spread open, you’re going to see a lot less kids redshirted,” Ward said. “Teams are spreading you out more and running hurry up offense, so you need as much depth as possible.”
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More than half of South Carolina’s incoming freshman class of 19 could play before the season is through, and that number is led by defenders, specifically the linebackers.
“It’s very impressive for the true freshmen,” linebackers coach Kirk Botkin said. “It’s very impressive what they are doing and how quickly they have been learning. They are doing a lot of really good things. They aren’t perfect yet, but we’ve got more days of practice.”
Newcomers Skai Moore, Larenz Bryant and Jonathan Walton all will play this season, on special teams if not in the regular defensive rotation, Ward said. Moore, for now, is second team behind Marcquis Roberts at weakside linebacker because of an injury to projected starter Cedrick Cooper. Bryant is a third-teamer on the weakside, and Walton is the third-teamer in the middle, although he is pushing for a second-team spot, Botkin said. All three also will play special teams.
“We are going to get them in the mix,” Botkin said.
On the defensive line, end David Johnson, who started at linebacker, might play if he can learn enough of the playbook, and tackle Kelsey Griffin “is still in the mix,” Ward said.
Cornerback Jamari Smith, who was moved from running back to defense last week, “will play” and could be the Gamecocks’ fourth cornerback, Ward said.
On offense, the number of first-year players who make the field figures to be smaller. Running back David Williams and Pharoh Cooper both have a chance to play right away, coach Steve Spurrier said, and tackle J.P. Vonashek “will have to play if somebody goes down in front of him,” offensive line coach Shawn Elliott said.
Williams already is preparing himself to run onto the field at Williams-Brice Stadium in front of more than 80,000 fans on Thursday night against North Carolina.
“Probably the night before the game I will get the jitters, just not knowing what to expect,” Williams said. “It’s going to be exciting.”
LB Larenz Bryant
LB Skai Moore
CB Jamari Smith
LB Jonathan Walton
WR Pharoh Cooper
DT Kelsey Griffin
DE David Johnson
OL J.P. Vonashek
RB David Williams
Likely to redshirt
S Mohamed Camara
CB Ali Groves
OL Bryce King
OL Alan Knott
QB Connor Mitch
OL D.J. Park
OL Na’ty Rodgers
S Jasper Sasser
DE Gerald Turner
DE Devin Washington