The South Carolina football team enters spring practice next Saturday with a few key areas to shore up. The coaching staff will probably say everything could improve, but a few spots are a bit less certain.
Some were affected by graduation. Some were issues through 2016. In either case, the Gamecocks will need someone to step in or step up if they want to build on last season’s campaign.
The Gamecocks only return Malik Young, who found his way into the lineup and started nine games. But even he admitted he was feeling his way though the role as a first-time starter who got the job a few games in. To fill out a position it likely needs more from, USC has options in D.J. Park, who lost his spot to Young and moonlighted at guard, Blake Camper, who has seen time but was hurt most of 2016, and perhaps redshirt freshman Sadarius Hutcherson.
All three starters return, so that’s a start. But folks not named Zack Bailey had a bad habit of getting shoved into the backfield. With guard Cory Helms able to play center, guard Donell Stanley, who started the opener and got hurt a few snaps in, could provide a little more heft.
Another spot where USC has returning starters, but against true spread teams, Chris Lammons, Rashad Fenton and Jamarcus King played just about every snap. Kaleb Chalmers joins the group and Chris Smith comes off a redshirt year, but the real relief likely comes with five summer enrollee defensive backs. With the pace most teams run, it’s likely the staff wants the option for some rotation, any really, in 2017.
No. 3 wide receiver
The Gamecocks didn’t go through 2016 with a third receiver. There were Bryan Edwards and Deebo Samuel, plus a rotating cast of younger players who shuttled in and out when Samuel got hurt. Four-star OrTre Smith is already enrolled. The crew of Korey Banks, Randrecous Davis and even Chavis Dawkins have year one under their belts. That group, plus speedy summer enrollee Shi Smith and larger option Chad Terrell, will have a chance to reshape what was a two-man show last season.
USC lost both its edge guys (Marquavius Lewis, Darius English), but has likely starters (Dante Sawyer, D.J. Wonnum) in the wings. The questions come with who steps into the rotation as reserves and can add depth in the interior and boost a unit that had its share of issues. The good news is the availability of players off redshirts – Aaron Thompson, Stephon Taylor, Griffin Gentry – and a pair of former highly-regarded prospects – Shameik Blackshear and Dexter Wideman – could change things up with a group that included three freshmen last season.
Linebackers not named Bryson Allen-Williams
The senior filled a several roles last season, but now he’ll need help. All-conference player Skai Moore hasn’t played in more than a year and is coming off heavy duty surgery. Local product T.J. Brunson got some snaps last season. But with the departure of Sherrod Pittman and Jalen Dread, plus the graduation of three players off the two-deep, someone will have to step up. Things won’t be settled coming out of spring, as four linebackers, including junior college product Eldridge Thompson, will arrive in the summer.