Josh Kendall

Gamecocks biggest offensive change? It may not be Deebo or McClendon

South Carolina fans might be excited about the Gamecocks’ 2018 offense because senior wide receiver Deebo Samuel is back in the roster. They might be excited about the offense because of new offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon and the promise of a more up-tempo attack. Those are both legitimate reasons for optimism, but they might not be the most important offensive change of the offseason.

The change that might affect South Carolina more than any is not sexy; it may not even be noticeable for the casual fan, but don’t underestimate the reworked interior of the Gamecocks offensive line.

Barring preseason injuries, South Carolina will start 6-foot-6, 314-pound Zack Bailey and 6-foot-4, 310-pound Sadarius Hutcherson at guard and the 6-foot-3, 315-pound Donell Stanley at center. Compare that to last year’s interior line: Stanley and 6-foot-4, 309-pound Cory Helms at guard, and 6-foot-4, 285-pound Alan Knott at center and don’t forget the fact that Helms played most of his games on an injured ankle and Knott played below his maximum strength numbers because of an offseason injury that cost him an entire offseason.

It has been several years since the interior of South Carolina’s offensive line has cleared much room for the team’s bread-and-butter inside zone running game. Stanley, Hutcherson and Bailey give reason to believe that will change this year. Not only does Stanley feature 30 more pounds than Knott, but he’s taken to the center position like a natural.

“Donell’s awesome,” quarterback Jake Bentley said. “He’s so smart.”

Bailey, who played tackle last season, has long been considered the team’s best offensive lineman, but Hutcherson was the team’s most impressive offensive lineman this spring and Bentley referred to the pair as “just two massive human beings that love hitting people.”

This all may seem like a small change. It is not. The Gamecocks have not had an adequate running game for a while now. If they can be even a good running team this year, that changes the offense as much as Samuel’s addition or the new system.

“That double team has to get that defensive tackle out of there for the inside zone to go,” Bentley said. “Having those guys in there and getting that push, I know the running backs are excited about it. The running backs are excited to show what they can do because they know the offensive line is so good. I’m not saying they weren’t last year, but they know Zack and Hutch are going to clear a way for them. For sure getting that push initially is big.”