The Gamecocks open head coach Will Muschamp’s second season Monday morning when they hit the practice field for the first time. All eyes will be on Jake Bentley, Jamyest Williams and a few more players.
Jake Bentley’s workload
The sophomore quarterback is South Carolina’s unquestioned starter and the Gamecocks have virtually no experience in the second spot, whether that ends up being Michael Scarnecchia or Jay Urich. That normally might be a recipe for Bentley to give up some practice snaps to the backups, but given that Bentley has only seven starts and needs to work through the offseason progress he’s made in controlling the team’s pass protections, don’t expect him to watch much this fall.
Running back competition
Returning starter Rico Dowdle, UNC transfer Ty’Son Williams and one-time starter A.J. Turner are listed as co-starters entering camp, but Dowdle is expected to walk out for the first snap. The most plausible outcome of this competition seems to be for Dowdle and Williams, who are 220 pounds and 215 respectively, to share most of the first- and second-down snaps and the 185-pound Turner becoming the third-down back.
Offensive line moves
Zack Bailey probably will stick at right tackle after being a standout guard last year. The two most interesting spots to watch will be left tackle and left guard. Malik Young will get the first shot at left tackle, in front of redshirt freshman Sadarius Hutcherson. At left guard, the competition is between two veterans – junior Donnell Stanley and senior D.J. Park – who came in with a lot of recruiting hype but haven’t performed to that level yet.
The other pass catchers
Everyone by now knows wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards and tight end Hayden Hurst, but as good as that trio is expected to be, the Gamecocks need more receivers to develop. There are some intriguing prospects among the candidates, but the most intriguing might be redshirt freshman Randrecous Davis. USC tried to get him on the field last year but a hamstring injury limited him to two catches and then a medical redshirt. Chavis Dawkins, Korey Banks and true freshman early enrollee OrTre Smith also could be in the WR rotation. K.C. Crosby should be the No. 2 TE.
Offensive coordinator Kurt Roper has much more depth of offensive talent than he had in his first year and a more experienced quarterback on top of that. That means he will be able to use a lot of different formations to emphasize either his running backs, tight ends or wide receivers, but the Gamecocks need to figure out what works best. That could mean a lot of tinkering in fall camp as Roper looks at a lot of different personnel groupings to see where his best advantages are.
Senior defensive linemen
Head coach Will Muschamp has put pressure squarely on the shoulders of senior defensive linemen Dante Sawyer, Taylor Stallworth and Ulric Jones, mentioning them by name at SEC media days. That trio has shown some flashes but mostly been non-spectacular. That’s fine for backups, but all three will be in the starting lineup on the first day of camp. They probably will keep those spots into the season because of a lack of depth behind them, but they need to up their game this fall if USC’s DL is going to hold up.
Pass rush particulars
If Sawyer, Stallworth and Jones can be solid and stand up against the run, the Gamecocks will have a better chance to get some type of pass rush from other areas. The most likely candidates at the moment are sophomore end D.J. Wonnum, who had 3.5 tackles-for-loss as a true freshman, and senior linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams who is versatile enough to rush off the edge. The coaching staff also is quietly hoping that incoming freshman Davonne Bowen can provide something from an outside linebacker position.
All eyes will be on signee Jamyest Williams the first time he steps on the practice field. The smallest player in the signing class – 5-foot-9, 174 pounds – is also the most highly rated. Williams is expected, at least by Gamecocks fans, to make an immediate impact on the defense and maybe on the return game. The most likely spot for Williams would be the nickel position, where his quickness would match well with slot receivers.
South Carolina feels very good about starting linebackers Allen-Williams, Skai Moore and T.J. Brunson, but there is almost no experienced depth behind them. The preseason depth chart lists converted safety Antoine Wilder in one of the backup spots. Freshmen like Bowen, Damani Stanley and maybe Brad Johnson (who signed as a defensive lineman but could move back) will get a shot to provide depth immediately.
Even without Williams being inserted into the mix, the South Carolina secondary would be malleable. JaMarcus King and Rashad Fenton are listed as the starting cornerbacks entering camp, with Chris Lammons at the nickel. Depth at safety is thin, which could mean a move back for Lammons if Williams can come on this fall. Another name to watch is newcomer Jaylin Dickerson, who caught the coaches’ eyes in spring practice.
5 dates to know
▪ Monday, July 31: South Carolina’s first preseason practice (closed to the public)
▪ Saturday, Aug. 19: Fan Appreciation Day, 2 p.m. at Colonial Life Arena
▪ Monday, Aug. 21: 7:30 p.m. Fan Appreciation Night, open practice at Williams-Brice Stadium
▪ Wednesday, Aug, 23: First radio call-in show of the season for Will Muschamp, 7 p.m.
▪ Saturday, Sept. 2: USC vs NC State, 3 p.m. kickoff at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte (ESPN)