Jake Bentley talks about his final spring practices, updates his progress
Any college football staff, such as, say, South Carolina’s, has developed an eye for the finer points of their game.
It comes with watching plays, watching players, watching movements and absorbing all the detail of what can be a hectic scene. But during this part of the year, they can’t watch their players work.
Yet that doesn’t mean the players aren’t working and it doesn’t mean the coaches don’t have a sense of what’s going on.
At this time of year, when coaches are limited to eight hours a week with players and most of that is weight room work, players are given the plans to run their own practices. They go three times a week, working on drills and even full team work. And the veterans, they have to spot things and give the information back to the coaches.
“It’s interesting to hear,” Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp said. “Especially when they’ll evaluate our younger players as far as how those guys fit in, and players know. They know the guys that belong, whether they’re ready mentally or not. Sometimes they don’t know, but physically, they’re able to see the guys they know belong.”
That means players saw what Zacch Pickens and Ryan Hilinski looked like against college competition before their coaches in a certain sense. They’ll be going against the likes of later enrollees such as Cam Smith and Keveon Mullins, giving a sense of how quickly those players might contribute.
This factors into those moments when new players seem to already have a spot on the depth chart in their first college practices.
Much of organizing the offense falls on senior quarterback Jake Bentley, while senior linebacker T.J. Brunson handles the defensive side.
It’s the kind of thing that asks a lot of a team’s elder statesmen, both in organizing and having that critical eye a coach might.
“It’s where you really pull your leadership from to find out,” Muschamp said. “In every exit meeting with every player, we talk about the things they need to improve on themselves individually, which collectively helps us as a football team. That’s the time for them to really work on those sorts of things.
“That’s a critical, critical, vital part of having a really good football team in the fall.”
In a world where coaches often possess a large measure of control, this is something different. They have to let go to a degree, put trust in their veterans, let them bring their new teammates into a part of college football life.
South Carolina hasn’t been shy about putting its young players in the spotlight the past few seasons. Part of that is recruiting and part is preparation, steeping the new faces in practice well before they’ve gone out there with coaches for the first time.
That ties into a theme Muschamp went to again and again on his public speaking tour. He’s already said he expects this to be his best South Carolina team, but there’s a lot of ground to cover before a whistle again blows at an official practice.
“There’s a lot to like about our team right now,” Muschamp said. “But we’ve got to really improve in the months of May, June and July.”