David Williams is all that remains of South Carolina’s running backs rotation from a season ago. Steady Brandon Wilds is gone, same with occasionally explosive Shon Carson.
It leaves Williams, a powerfully built former top-flight recruit who struggled to post big numbers, as the veteran presence in the locker room and spring first-teamer by default. But don’t expect him to be used the same way.
“It’s more versatile,” Williams said. “I’ve been exposed to different stuff, catching out the backfield, jet sweeps, out-the-backfield pass blocking. Puts me in space.”
Williams might have had his issues in 2015, averaging only 3.5 yards per carry to reach 299 yards. But the next-most productive returning tailback had just 11 yards, six fewer than punter Sean Kelly.
Williams said he’s confident and buying into the new program and has been a presumptive starter since the staff first arrived. He believes he’s developed a better feel for the game, reading blocks and linebackers.
The running back room has several veterans who’ve seen limited playing time, but also has three first- and second-year players, not counting freshman Rico Dowdle, who arrives in summer and could make an impact. Williams gets the sense those younger players look up to him, and that makes him lead by example.
It’s made an impression on his coaches.
“He is businesslike,” offensive coordinator Kurt Roper said. “He’s intelligent. He picks things up and he works hard at it, and I think he’s got a lot of talent.”
The Gamecocks also have a sizable hole at No. 1 receiver, and no proven options to fill in.
Deebo Samuel says he’s trying.
The redshirt sophomore battled a hamstring injury most of the 2015 season before coming on strong at the end. Early in spring, he’s been with the starters, occupying the slot position former top target Pharoh Cooper held nearly exclusively.
“Last year, I was hurt, so I was dealing with adversity, trying to get back,” Samuel said. “I came back the last two games, did pretty well. So I’m coming into this season, trying to push myself harder.”
He closed out with 104 yards and a score against Clemson, and that alone was 18 yards fewer than the season total for any other returning receiver. The former four-star prospect has decent size for an inside receiver at 6-foot, 205 pounds and showed off potential explosiveness when healthy.
▪ During a two-drive team period, we got our first look at quarterback Brandon McIlwain after he subbed in for Perry Orth with the first unit. McIlwain mostly handed off, though he did have one nice toss to Matrick Belton along the sideline. McIlwain also looked a little slow getting the hurry-up offense organized, but that’s not unexpected for someone in his second college practice.
▪ Quarterback Connor Mitch had a more inauspicious day, tossing a pair of interceptions to the second-team defense. Once, he missed linebacker Jonathan Walton in the flat on a play-action sweep and threw a pass that likely would have been taken for a score. Later, he tossed a deeper ball that safety Chaz Elder undercut.
▪ There was a moment of truly fired-up Will Muschamp, as the coach got on a young defensive player and shuttled him off the field, yelling much of the way.
▪ Quarterback Lorenzo Nunez also got some time behind center during the media viewing period.
▪ Defensive tackles Ulric Jones and Abu Lamin both spent time with the first unit, while younger players Dexter Wideman and Kobe Smith had time with the second group. Teams sometimes roll linemen early to establish a sense the line is not starters and backups, but a true rotation.
▪ Starting guard Cory Helms was at center with the second unit early, but starter Alan Knott finished out the second drive.
▪ Safeties Elder and Toure Boyd got time with both the first and second defensive units.
▪ Running backs Rod Talley, Williams, Jamari Smith and Mon Denson each had at least one solid run.
▪ Walk-on tight end Jacob August had a grab in the flat.
▪ Wide receivers Jalen Christian and Javon Charleston both got work with the No. 2 offense, while Samuel, Belton and Bryan Edwards took the field first with the 1s.
▪ The team showed a little more diversity in its ground game. The offense ran several sweeps, a staple concept from 2015. They also got the tight end arcing across the formation on some zone runs, something the team seldom deployed a year ago.
DL Dante Sawyer (shoulder surgery), OL Trey Derouen (knee injury), LB Jordan Diggs (shoulder surgery), DL Shameik Blackshear will miss all of spring. WR Jerad Washington (leg), DT Taylor Stallworth (shoulder surgery), DT Kobe Smith (shoulder surgery) will be limited. LB Skai Moore (neck strain) will be held out of contact work early, but will be re-evaluated later on.
The Gamecocks will practice at 4:30 p.m. Friday. It will be closed to the public.