USC Gamecocks Football

Muschamp goes on-field for spring game; Jamari Smith shows skills

South Carolina running back Jamari Smith (22) brushes off South Carolina cornerback Chris Lammons during the Garnet and Black Spring Game Saturday.
South Carolina running back Jamari Smith (22) brushes off South Carolina cornerback Chris Lammons during the Garnet and Black Spring Game Saturday. tdominick@thestate.com

Will Muschamp stood far behind his offense in the middle of the field, diagnosing things from a different perspective at South Carolina’s spring game. It’s not completely unusual, something one might see in spring and in practice.

What was pretty rare: when Mack Brown, Muschamp’s former boss, came out to interview the coach for the ESPN broadcast mid-drive.

Outside that, no other coaches were out joining Muschamp, who ran the show from between the hashes.

“I like to see how the quarterbacks handle things,” Muschamp said. “I want to see the communication upfront on offense and to see where defensive players’ eyes are. That’s been an issue for us this spring, but I want to know what they’re seeing and also the body language and how guys are responding to adversity.”

Mr. Versatile

Wide receiver Deebo Samuel understood exactly why Jamari Smith has been sent so many different directions by coaches. The fourth-year junior went from running back to cornerback two different times in his career before landing at slot receiver this spring.

“You can tell he is an athlete with a ball in his hands,” Smith said. “He is just a perfect athlete, so he will help us out anywhere.”

Smith netted 54 yards on his six receptions Saturday, and always seemed to pop open, beating coverage in various spots. He had a 5-yard score and long of 19-yards.

It earned some recognition from his coaches.

“He made a smooth transition, and he’s a very intelligent man,” Muschamp said. “He’s a guy that can get yards after the catch, and he’s someone who can do nice things for you in space.”

Samuel, who at this point may be the team’s No. 1 receiver, showed his own versatility, breaking off a 33-yard run, the longest of the day, and connecting on a 28-yard pass to David Williams.

Happy Pappy

Already without starting linebacker Skai Moore, the Gamecocks played Saturday without veteran presence Jonathan Walton.

The senior’s girlfriend gave birth the night before to the couple’s first child, a son.

“I’m really happy for (Jon),” Muschamp said. “He was riding up to Greenville, she was going into labor and he started explaining to me the process. I said, ‘Jon, I’ve got a 14-year-old and a 10-year-old, I kind of understand.’ 

Youthful energy

Moore’s absence all spring opened the door for younger linebackers to get more reps, often with the first team. Middle linebacker T.J. Holloman said several players got better in bigger roles, but singled out one young player for his impact.

“Sherrod Pittman stepped up a lot,” Holloman said. “He had a great spring. He comes out there every day with a lot of excitement, a lot of energy, loves to hit. If we can get the whole collective group to come out there with that same energy every day, we should be a great team.”

Pittman led all players Saturday with seven tackles.

A critical time

Muschamp said the coming weeks and months become crucial for his team. The coaches can no longer work with players and a ball, and that means they’ll have to get together and run some of their own drills.

“Our guys have got to take ownership of that,” Muschamp said. “You can make a tremendous amount of improvement in your football team offensively and defensively during this time. I think we have the leadership and maturity to handle that.”

Wide receiver Javon Charleston said everyone at his position is in a group text, constantly figuring out plans and times they could get together.

Spring game stats worth noting

▪  Sophomore Buck Boosie Whitlow had a pair of sacks.

▪  Former four-star DL Dexter Wideman had four tackles and a QB hurry.

▪  Safety Toure Boyd had two tackles for loss, indicative of how actives DBs were chasing down screens.

▪  Walk-on WR Devin Dingle had the highest big play-per-touch ratio, with his only catches going for 35 and 42 yards.

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