Jamari Smith will start at the slot receiver position again this week for South Carolina despite dropping three passes in the season-opener.
“Jamari works extremely hard and is a guy I’ve still got a bunch of confidence in,” Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp said.
That’s one of the reasons Smith, a junior, will hold onto his starting job. The other is that South Carolina doesn’t have many other options in its receiving corps at the moment. Only two Gamecocks wide receivers caught at pass in last week’s 13-10 win against Vanderbilt, and that short rotation might not change much in the immediate future, Muschamp indicated this week.
“We’d like to play more guys, but it goes back to practice,” Muschamp said.
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Muschamp tried to make that point to his wide receivers during a team meeting this week, pointing to sophomore offensive lineman Blake Camper, who was expected to start before being beaten out for the right tackle job by D.J. Park. Rather than pout, Muschamp said, Camper continued to practice well and ended up playing all but one series of the Vanderbilt game after an injury on the offensive line.
“We need some of those young receivers to step up. They wilt at practice, in my opinion,” Muschamp said. “They need to step up and become better players.”
After a preseason full of praise for the team’s true freshman wide receivers, none was targeted on a pass attempt against Vanderbilt. Senior Matrick Belton, Smith, sophomores Deebo Samuel and Terry Googer and newcomers Bryan Edwards, Korey Banks, Randrecous Davis and Chavis Dawkins dressed out for the game. Edwards (eight catches, 101 yards) and Samuel (two catches, 36 yards) were the only ones with a catch.
Davis currently would be the Gamecocks fourth wide receiver, Muschamp said.
“Korey Banks, Chavis Dawkins, all those guys will continue to get opportunities, but they’ve got to practice well to give us the confidence to play them,” Muschamp said.
Sophomore Lorenzo Nunez, who made the switch from quarterback to wide receiver during the offseason, is nowhere on the team’s two-deep depth chart at any of its three wide receiver positions.
“Everything is new to Lorenzo right now at the position,” Muschamp said. “I feel like he has really embraced the opportunity at the position. I’m really proud of his effort and everything he is doing. It’s tough. You’re a starting quarterback last year. Now you’re in this situation. He’s going through a tough time.”
The same could be said for Smith, who is hoping to break out after two seasons spent bouncing between running back and defensive back. Smith will continue to get more chances, but the Gamecocks may also use tight ends K.C. Crosby and Kiel Pollard in the slot receiver position.
“We’ll continue to move some guys through there,” Muschamp said. “At the end of the day, you’ve got to catch the ball. It’s part of the job of a receiver.”
Who: USC (1-0) at Mississippi State (0-1)
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Where: Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field, Starkville Miss.
Line: Miss. St. by 6 1/2