Josh Kendall

5 things we learned from USC’s first 5 spring practices

Gamecocks put on the pads, get physical at spring practice

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South Carolina’s football team held its first five practices of the spring last week and is taking this week off while the university is on spring break. We’ll take advantage of the break to look back at five things we learned in the first week.

The offense will run through Jake Bentley

Let’s put to bed the talk of four-star freshman Dakereon Joyner, or any other current backup, is going to make a push for the starting quarterback position. Junior Jake Bentley is and will be the starting quarterback, and his coaches even believe there’s a chance he’ll be so good this year that he could choose to enter the NFL early at the end of the season.

“Everybody’s got room for improvement, but did he progress from one year to the next? Absolutely, and we’re going to ask him to progress a lot more from last year to this season,” offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon said last week. “Hopefully, he has a good enough season where he has a choice (about the NFL), but hopefully he stays around and progresses going into the next year.”

Joyner might find a limited role in 2018 but for now he’s just figuring out college football.

The Gamecocks defense will be faster

This is the one thing every defensive player mentioned in some form or fashion last week. When head coach Will Muschamp took over, he bemoaned the roster’s overall lack of speed and how much it showed up on special teams. It also was a glaring weakness against the plethora of spread offenses that the every team faces now. The staff’s recruiting emphasis is beginning to pay off.

“The team speed of our team is just crazy,” senior linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams said. “I was talking to the some of the older guys who left this year, just looking at our spring roster from two years ago compared to now, it’s night and day just seeing the team speed we have, how physical we are at the point of attack.”

Rosendo Louis is being prepared to play

The early entry freshman linebacker is “an impressive kid,” said linebackers coach Coleman Hutzler, adding that he is getting Louis “a bunch of reps” this spring.

“We went to a spring practice (when Louis was in high school), and I saw a 240-pound grown man run around and hit everything that moves. That’s what you need at linebacker,” Hutzler said. Offensive line coach Eric Wolford “and I, we sat there at practice and said, ‘Wow.’ He was a really impressive kid with how he worked, how he hit, how he ran and how he went about his business.”

Louis is working at middle linebacker behind T.J. Brunson and Sherrod Greene at the moment, but Greene could slide over to the weak side, which would open up a reserve role for Louis in the fall.

The tailback position remains muddled

Running backs coach Bobby Bentley made it clear last week what his greatest wish is for the fall – to find a headliner at running back. It has looked at various times in the past that Rico Dowdle or Ty’Son Williams might end up being that player. Instead, both players ended up playing behind A.J. Turner for most of the last half of the 2017 season. Turner finished the year with 531 yards, while Williams had 471 and Dowdle had 251.

Dowdle, Williams and Turner all return for their junior season but none of them separated himself during the first week of spring practice. True separation probably can’t happen until fall, but South Carolina has been waiting two years now for one of these backs to step up and the coaches seem to be getting impatient.

Defensive tackle depth is a concern

The decision to move Malik Young from offensive tackle to defensive tackle showed two things. First, the Gamecocks coaches are comfortable with Blake Camper at offensive tackle and no longer think Young can help them at the position. Second, that South Carolina really needs bodies at defensive tackle. It’s tough to expect a player moved to a new position prior to his senior year will have a huge impact at that position, but, at 6-foot-3, 303 pounds, at least Young can provide some bulk at the spot.

Junior Javon Kinlaw and Kobe Smith are the only returners who are true defensive tackles. Kinlaw is going to be a star and Smith is getting better and better, but the Gamecocks would like to rotate as many as six players at the position and they’re well short of that number at the moment.

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