Outside the South Carolina football complex, the question lingers: will the Gamecocks get back to playing a true third receiver in the slot in 2017.
All of the 2016 offseason, the staff talked about and prepared publically as if they would deploy one, but after Jamari Smith dropped the first three passes that came his way, South Carolina employed a second tight end in place of a third wide receiver just about every snap in the final 12 1/2 games.
Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper has usually had a traditional slot (read: small, quick in tight spaces), and he should have some candidates. Either K.C. Crosby or Hayden Hurst handled the top inside receiver spots in this staff’s first year.
Korey Banks: A 5-foot-11, 180-pound sophomore, Banks was thrown into action in six games last season, collecting one short pass. He’s got the build for the role though he took snaps on the outside last season.
Randrecous Davis: Another player who was forced onto the field because of injuries, Davis played in two games, starting one, and catching a 7-yard pass. He lined up on the outside in those games, but at a tough 5-foot-11, 181 pounds, he could be an option on those shorter routes.
Jerad Washington: The longest of shots who missed his first year on campus recovering from a broken leg and didn’t see the field last season. He’s small and speedy and did make the dress list for much of the season.
Deebo Samuel: This requires a stretch of imagination that centers around the arrival of true freshman OrTre Smith. At 6-foot-4, Smith will likely not end up in the slot. But if he is as good as he was rated and the staff sees fit to play him, Bryan Edwards and Samuel at the same time, it’s Deebo that likely goes inside. The third-year player showed the ability to play bigger than his 6-foot frame, and despite not being a pure burner, he showed some short-space quickness in making a lot of plays in 2016.
Shi Smith: Perhaps the most intriguing option won’t arrive until the summer. Shi Smith has a lot of speed and explosiveness packed into a 5-foot-11, 175-pound frame. He’ll probably excel as a punt returner or gunner on the coverage team, but he said the staff described him as the kind of player who could take a short pass a long way, and that’s one of the better traits for a slot receiver to have. His biggest hurdle will be adapting to a college offense and trying to pick up everything to make a quick impact.