South Carolina begins spring football practice on Wednesday. The Gamecocks were 7-6 a year ago. The spring game will be held April 6 at noon and broadcast by the SEC Network.
Here are the top five storylines surrounding the Gamecocks offense headed into spring:
The backup quarterback
If South Carolina coaches get their wish, no quarterback other than senior Jake Bentley will play a meaningful snap in 2019. There is not a competition for the starting job, but the backup spot looks totally up for grabs. The contenders are redshirt freshman Dakereon Joyner, sophomore Jay Urich and early enrollee freshman Ryan Hilinski. Joyner was South Carolina’s Mr. Football in 2017; Hilinski was one of the top quarterback recruits in the country last year. If Hilinski jumps in line and wins the backup job, it could prompt Joyner to change positions or even consider a transfer. For that reason alone, it’s likely the Gamecocks will exit spring without naming a No. 2 at the position.
Wide receiver shakeup
Leading receiver Deebo Samuel is gone, clearing the way for Bryan Edwards to take on the No. 1 target role in his final season. Edwards has had at least 44 catches and 590 yards in his previous three seasons and seems up to the task. The bigger questions are what OrTre Smith will look like after missing most of last year with a knee injury, whether Shi Smith can take up all the slack left by Samuel’s exit and if sophomore Josh Vann can go from a freshman who showed flashes to a reliable No. 3 or 4 target.
Who will play left tackle?
Sadarius Hutcherson, who has played guard the last two seasons, probably will get the first look. The junior doesn’t have a typical tackle frame, but he’s been the team’s most consistent lineman the last two years. Sophomore Dylan Wonnum, who started seven games as a true freshman at right tackle, could also get a look on the left side. Sophomore Jordan Carty and redshirt freshman Max Iyama also are options, head coach Will Muschamp said.
Rico Dowdle’s last stand
The senior running back has a new position coach in Thomas Brown, who already has hinted that all the tailbacks underachieved last season, and no longer has competition from Ty’Son Williams, who is transferring, and perhaps A.J. Turner, who ended last season playing defensive back. Brown wants a clear No. 1 running back to emerge, and it seems like the decks are clearing for Dowdle to be that person. He’s had six 100-yard games in his career and had a career-high of 226 in 2016, but he’s also gone through periods of ineffectiveness. He’s got one more chance to have a statement season.
Will a TE emerge from pack?
In 2018, South Carolina went from Hayden Hurst, a first round NFL Draft pick, to tight end-by-committee, and it will probably rely on that same approach again this season. Jacob August is gone, but Kiel Pollard, K.C. Crosby and Kyle Markway all return. Meanwhile, tight end Evan Hinson has given up basketball to focus solely on football and to try and gain a larger role. Pollard led that group with 15 catches for 181 yards last year. Crosby added 11 catches for 101 yards.