The aim for South Carolina guard Zack Bailey: improvement.
Yes he’s coming off a season when he saw the field as a true freshman, and yes he claimed freshman all-conference honors after getting thrown into the starting lineup five times. But he’s got work to do, and not just in one area.
“I think just kind of all over,” Bailey said. “Pass sets, getting off the ball. Last year was last year and I did as best as I could. But it’s a new year and it’s time to improve on everything; technique, punch, defenses, how they line up, things of that sort.”
As he said, last year is in the past, and that’s worth noting because of the nature of making an all-freshman team. Sometimes a player gets the accolade because they showed especially well, and sometimes it’s because a bad situation forces a player into seeing a lot of snaps and bodies are needed to fill out a list.
College football is littered with players who posted all-freshman campaigns and stalled, and Bailey aims to avoid that fate.
He’s certainly got the potential. He was a top-30 prospect at his position and top-5 in the state coming out of talent-rich Summerville program. At 6-foot-6, he’s got height for an interior lineman and is listed at 313 pounds.
He was also put in a rather precarious position in 2015.
Bailey had never played center growing up, but had to fill in for starter Alan Knott three times. Later in the season, injuries on the outside forced him in at guard.
That kind of campaign offers both advantages and drawbacks. On one hand, offensive line is arguably the most developmental of positions, with long-term strength gained in the weight room and mastery of technique being cumulatively built up.
But nothing replaces the feel of live game action or the speed of high-level football, and being exposed to it forces a player to grow fast.
“Zack has made a lot of leaps and bounds with the quickness in his feet,” left tackle Mason Zandi said. “He looks like a dancing bear out there. He looks real good.”
Bailey said one goal is learning from mistakes he made and not making them again.
He opened the spring at left guard with the top unit, but at the start of the second week, had some time with the second group, switching places with D.J. Park. That battle is likely far from over.
Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper said his goal is to develop a core group of eight linemen, five starters, plus a top reserve at tackle, center and guard.
The new coaching regime’s arrival means most roles have been reset, and Bailey has tried to take on something different.
“With a new coaching staff, I think everybody’s trying to look for a leader,” Bailey said. “So I think everybody is trying to step up to be a leader, from freshmen to seniors.”
For someone going into his second season on a college roster, it takes some certainty and pluck to want such a role. As Bailey tries to transition from a player thrown into the fire to one who makes the most of his considerable potential, he’ll have to possess one attribute in spades.
“Being confident,” Bailey said. “But at the same time, I don’t want to be overconfident because then you’ll start slacking.”