South Carolina offensive line coach Eric Wolford copped to having a good sense of who’s starting Sept. 2 when the Gamecocks open their 2017 season against N.C. State.
It’s more than two weeks away, and that’s not how the only new member of Will Muschamp’s staff likes to take this. He wants his players to go by the day, and he’s got a tool for that.
“Sometimes we talk about this guy’s the best O-lineman,” Wolford said. “That depends on what day.
“We’ve got a group of guys that are pushing to be the best O-lineman day-by-day, and that’s why we give out an offensive lineman of the day. And if you looked at who we gave out as offensive lineman of the day, thus far through spring practice, you’d be surprised at who they are, are you following me? Because there’s higher expectations of certain people.”
It’s a luxury to have the level of experience he’s got coming back. Four of last year’s starters return, as do three backups who started games the past two seasons. The group has nearly 100 starts to its credit.
But it’s also a unit that slid badly in Shawn Elliott’s final two seasons. He departed to be head coach at Georgia State, and Wolford took over after a stint with the San Francisco 49ers.
Last year’s USC line opened with what seemed like seven potentially playable linemen, and ended up losing a starting guard (Donell Stanley), backup tackle (Blake Camper), shifting D.J. Park to multiple spots before making him a reserve and pulling Malik Young into the lineup.
Part of Wolford’s lineman-of-the-day approach is aimed at building better depth than what was pushed to the limit in 2016.
“We’ve got to keep challenging guys,” Wolford said. “I want to find eight guys. I want to find eight guys who can play. Who’s the first tackle? Who’s the first guard in the game? Who’s the next center in the game?
“I’ve never been anywhere where you have 10, but that’d be great.”
Outside the projected starting lineup, junior college addition Dennis Daley could easily find himself in the mix for No. 3 tackle with Camper. Park has been a backup guard, and the staff moved high-ceiling lineman Sadarius Hutcherson inside recently (Wolford still thinks he has left-tackle ability).
Last season, starting guard Cory Helms was the No. 2 center, and he could reprise that role. The next option is likely walk-on Chandler Farrell, who said he added strength over the offseason.
Perhaps some of those players have earned Wolford’s lineman of the day award, expectation-adjusted of course. But he’s not telling.
“I can’t reveal that information,” Wolford said. “That’d be giving away too much stuff. It’s not who you think it is, how about that?”
Then he let out a laugh.
“Give me $20,” Wolford said. “You’ve got to pay for that kind of info.”