South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp’s favorite thing about hiring a new offensive line coach will be that he gets to tell his returning offensive linemen something like this: “You have to go prove yourselves all over again now.”
The Gamecocks will bring back four of five starting offensive linemen in 2017. What they won’t bring back is offensive line coach Shawn Elliott, who left last week to become the head coach at Georgia State.
Muschamp hasn’t spoken to the media since Elliott’s departure or offered a timetable to find a replacement. It’s possible he could make a hire before the Dec. 29 Birmingham Bowl and have that person in place in time to coach the game, or he could name an interim offensive line coach from among his support staff and make a full-time hire after the game.
Whoever he hires will have plenty of pieces to work with and plenty of room to grow. South Carolina gave up more sacks (36) and as many tackles-for-loss (92) as any team in the SEC during the regular season. The Gamecocks also finished next-to-last in rushing offense with 138 yards per game. Not all that is the offensive line’s fault, but some of it is.
The new coach will put a fresh eye on South Carolina’s personnel, which makes the status of returning starter a little less valuable and increases the pressure on each player to put his best foot forward throughout the offseason. Here’s what Elliott’s replacement will be working with when he is hired:
Starting left tackle Mason Zandi will play his final collegiate game in the Birmingham Bowl. The 6-foot-9, 315-pound Chapin native has started 23 games for South Carolina, including all 12 so far this year.
Starting right tackle Malik Young, a 6-3, 300-pound sophomore, was pressed into the starting lineup this year and pretty quickly settled in as a solid addition. He will be a candidate to move to left tackle next season.
Starting left guard Zack Bailey, a 6-6, 315-pound sophomore, was the team’s best offensive lineman. He looks like a fixture at left guard and will start to get All-SEC consideration next season.
Starting center Alan Knott, a 6-4, 290-pound junior, missed the entire offseason due to injury and never fully caught up with his upper body strength, Muschamp said. An offseason in the weight room should be a big help for Knott and the interior of the offensive line.
Starting right guard Cory Helms, a 6-4, 310-pound junior, is the most experienced of the team’s offensive linemen, having started 35 collegiate games, 23 at Wake Forest and then all 12 this year after sitting out the 2015 regular season. He’ll have the inside track on a starting job heading into next season.
Junior D.J. Park, 6-4, 330 pounds, was the most talked about offensive lineman of the preseason and started three of the season’s first four games at right tackle. However, Park eventually was replaced by Young and played sparingly the remainder of the regular season. He’ll get a strong look at the open tackle spot.
Sophomore Blake Camper, 6-8, 300 pounds, started one game at right tackle and then suffered a high ankle sprain. He missed several weeks and never returned to the starting lineup. He could be Park’s top competition for the open tackle position.
Sophomore Donnell Stanley, 6-4, 325 pounds, will be the most intriguing offensive linemen to watch this offseason. He started the season at right guard but suffered a high ankle sprain on the first series of the game. He hasn’t played since and the team will request a medical redshirt season for him. He has the physical ability to push Helms hard for a starting guard position.
Redshirt freshman Trey Derouen (6-3, 310 pounds) and sophomore Christian Pellage (6-6, 305 pounds) served as reserves this year.
Chandler Farrell (6-2, 280, walk-on), Sadarius Hutcherson (6-4, 273, three-star prospect), Cameron Johnson (6-8, 300, walk-on), Pika Leota (6-4, 315, three-star prospect) and Will Putnam (6-5, 282, two-star prospect) redshirted this season.
2017 Projected Depth Chart*
*Projected by The State