Five players to watch on the South Carolina offense as spring practice starts on Saturday.
This should be the 6-foot-6, 315-pound Summerville native’s breakout season. An athletic guard who consistently was a bright spot on the offensive line last year, Bailey needs to step into the leadership role on this unit this year. The Gamecocks need their offensive line to play better as a unit this fall than it did last, and that needs to start with the best player up front leading the way. Bailey can start assuming that role this spring.
He’s coming off a 390-yard, three-touchdown performance in the Birmingham Bowl, so what will Jake Bentley do for a follow up? Last year’s standout freshman season was mostly pressure free. The peaks were lauded and the valleys were understandable. He finished his half season of work having completed 66 percent of his passes for 1,420 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions. Now, he’s the face of the offense and will be expected to have smoothed out many of the rough spots.
Like Bentley, Dowdle had the benefit of playing without any expectations last year, and, also like Bentley, he had an up-and-down freshman season. He was great against Tennessee (127 yards), Missouri (149) and Western Carolina (226), but not as good against Florida (18) or Clemson (30). The 5-foot-11, 211-pounder needs to cement the starting job this spring and keep moving toward being the SEC-caliber every-down back the Gamecocks need him to be.
Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper’s creativity will be tested by Hurst, the 6-foot-5, 250-pound tight end who can line up at a lot of places for South Carolina. Hurst had 48 catches for 616 yards last season, and this could be his last year in Columbia given his talent and relatively advanced age. (He spent two years in minor league baseball.) The Gamecocks have to get more than one receiving touchdown out of Hurst this fall if they are going to have a dynamic offense, so expect him to move around a lot this spring as Roper decides how best to utilize him.
Not many people noticed because of USC’s losing record, but the 6-foot, 205-pound Samuel is as dynamic a wide receiver as the SEC has. Slowed by hamstring injuries early in the 2016 season, Samuel came on to finish with 59 catches for 783 yards receiving and 15 carries for 98 yards and six touchdowns rushing. The Gamecocks need to get more out of Samuel this year, particularly in the passing game considering he had only one receiving touchdown last year. That starts with staying healthy this spring.