Moving Zack Bailey from left guard to right tackle could be a very impactful decision for South Carolina’s offense in 2017. The actual move was less dramatic.
“I was eating dinner, and I just got a phone call,” Bailey said. New offensive line coach Eric Wolford “just said, ‘Zack, we’re going to put you out at right tackle.’ I said, ‘That’s fine.’ ”
Just like that, South Carolina’s best offensive lineman had a new home this spring. Previously, Bailey, a 6-foot-6, 311-pound junior from Summerville, had played only on the interior of the line for the Gamecocks.
“They’re taking baby steps for me,” he said. “It’s not like they are throwing me into the fire.”
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Moving Bailey from guard to right tackle rather than left was one of those baby steps. While he is South Carolina’s best offensive lineman, Bailey is not their most athletic.
“I would be concerned about the speed at the left tackle spot,” Wolford said. “When you go from the inside, you don’t just throw them out at left tackle. When you’re an inside guy, it’s a slower and more powerful game. I didn’t want to go through the shock of left guard all of a sudden to left tackle and you’re dealing with speed and all of a sudden it be a bad experience. On the right side, we can protect him more, and you’re in the quarterback’s line of vision.”
That’s why Malik Young and Sadarius Hutcherson are working at left tackle this spring with Bailey on the right side, and Young thinks Bailey is going to be stick at that spot based on what he’s seen this spring.
“He’s going to hold the right position down,” Young said. “He looks real good.”
Not that the transition has been easy.
“It’s challenging, and I like that,” Bailey said. “I like the fact that it’s forcing me to learn more about the game.”
The move from one offensive line spot to another is more technical than outsiders presume, South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp said. Everything from the speed of the game to the assignments to the footwork changes. South Carolina defensive end Shameik Blackshear, one of the Gamecocks’ most athletic ends, has helped Bailey make the adjustment in practice, Bailey said.
“When he wants to get off (the line), he can get off,” Bailey said. “Every day when we go out to practice I tell him to give me everything you got because I’ve got to get better. He gives me a run for my money sometimes.”
Bailey’s height and long arms make him a good candidate to play tackle, Wolford said.
“You have to have at least four tackles to evaluate going in the spring,” Wolford said. “Why not early on figure out if this guy can play right tackle? It’s only going to help his career.”
The early returns suggest he can, Bailey’s teammates say. He has worked with the first team all spring in front of junior Blake Camper.
“Me and (Bailey) working together, we can get a lot of push on guys,” right guard Cory Helms said. “I like it a lot.”
“I’m loving it,” Bailey said.
What: Garnet and Black Spring Football Game
When: Saturday, noon
TV: SEC Network
Of note: Ground breaking for USC’s football operations building has been postponed.