Josh Kendall

Mission accomplished: USC offensive line gives staff reason to feel better

When South Carolina’s new offensive line coach watched the 2016 tape of his Gamecocks front, he was worried, but after 13 fall practices he’s starting to feel a little better about 2017.

“There was a concern with our overall athletic ability when you look at the matchups we have week in and week out,” Eric Wolford said Tuesday. “I have seen that already thus far in camp that we are moving around much better. (Strength coach Jeff) Dillman and our players have done a great job this summer of becoming more mobile and (improving) their ability to change direction.”

Wolford served as South Carolina’s offensive line coach in 2009 under head coach Steve Spurrier and was re-hired for the same job by current Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp this offseason. Muschamp rarely makes his assistant coaches available to the media and Tuesday was just the second time Wolford has spoken publicly since taking the job in January.

He’s been hard at work since then trying to put together a starting five that can help the Gamecocks improve on these dismal numbers – an SEC-worst 3.68 yards per carry on the ground and an SEC-worst 41 sacks allowed. Wolford indicated Tuesday that he has settled on a starting five for the Sept. 2 season opener against N.C. State: Malik Young at left tackle, Donell Stanley at left guard, Alan Knott at center, Cory Helms at right guard and Zack Bailey at right tackle.

“We probably have a pretty good idea, but we have to keep challenging guys,” he said.

South Carolina quarterback Jake Bentley can see a difference in the offensive line under Wolford, he said.

“They are communicating better and being on the same page better for the most part, a lot less pressure on me,” Bentley said.

Wolford has made it clear that keeping Bentley healthy and upright this season is critical, guard Sadarius Hutcherson said.

“Once we make one mistake, he goes off on us,” Hutcherson said. “If we make one mistake that’s a potential time Jake could get hurt and we can’t have that. We got better this summer. We lifted hard. Strength wise we don’t have to worry about that. We came a long way since last year. He wants us to be better than last year. We gave up so many sacks last year and he wants us to be perfect.”

Wolford left South Carolina following the 2009 season to become head coach at Youngstown State, a job he held from 2010-2014. After leaving Youngstown State, he served as an assistant offensive line coach for the San Francisco 49ers for two years and that professional experience has served South Carolina well, Muschamp said.

“Eric is a really good football coach,” Muschamp said. “I think he’s offered a lot of experience to our coaching staff. He’s been a tremendous asset to me from the standpoint of having sat in the seat before. That’s important and I certainly bounce ideas off him.”

In turn, Muschamp has reminded Wolford of his Midwestern roots.

“I have been extremely impressed with Will Muschamp. I love his blue collar mentality,” Wolford said. “If I didn’t know better I’d think his dad was a steel worker and grew up like my dad did. (Muschamp) is a tough guy who likes to work hard, has tremendous passion for the game of football, will not be outworked, honest and forthright guy, tells you the way it is. I just love guys like that.”

Related stories from The State in Columbia SC