Across much of South Carolina it feels as if spring is already here, but technically we are still a few weeks away. Spring football practice, however, is less than a week away for the South Carolina Gamecocks. Coach Will Muschamp’s team has improved its win total by three games in each of his first two seasons. While a jump from nine wins to twelve isn’t likely, this should be his best team yet in Columbia. Spring football is usually a time for development, getting younger players familiar with their roles and having veterans expand their skill sets. There will be a lot to focus on as the Gamecocks enter the spring. Of course, some questions won’t be answered until the fall, but there are a few things that should become clear as spring football practice progresses.
New Look Offense
Much was made about the Gamecocks struggles to score the last two seasons. While everyone has their own idea of who the blame may fall on, those thoughts are irrelevant now. The Gamecocks parted ways with Kurt Roper and promoted Bryan McClendon to offensive coordinator. While he served in that role leading up to the bowl game, spring football will be first go-round as the official offensive coordinator. South Carolina has a large core of returning talent at the skill positions, and a quarterback entering his third season.
It will be McClendon’s job to get the most out of this talent. For the first time under Coach Muschamp, the Gamecocks will not be relying solely on first and second-year players on offense. At times, the play calling was too conservative and predictable last season. McClendon will try and increase the tempo of the offense, and add some aggressiveness and creativity. From a talent and experience standpoint, the Gamecocks are as good as they have been in four years. Now it is up to the coaches to make the most of that talent, and the players to execute and continue to improve.
South Carolina was one of the youngest teams in the country in 2017, and return most of that talent this upcoming season. The secondary is the one position where they have multiple spots to fill. Chris Lammons, JaMarcus King, and D.J. Smith were all multi-year starters that graduated from last season’s team. Rising senior cornerback Rashad Fenton will headline the returning players in the defensive backfield. Steven Montac will likely step into one of the safety spots. Keisean Nixon played well near the end of the season and should see his opportunities increase. Nickel corner Jamyest Williams will miss spring football while rehabbing from shoulder surgery but should hold down his spot in the rotation once he returns for fall practice.
There are multiple red-shirt and true freshman who will be given chances to step into playing time. Jaylin Dickerson missed 2017 with a shoulder injury but had impressed coaches before getting hurt. He was in line for playing time at safety and should work his way back once he returns. Having unknowns and freshman fighting to fill spots in the secondary could be a daunting task. Luckily both Coach Muschamp and defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson specialize in coaching defensive backs. This should help the transition for some of the young players, and ease fans concerns over having to replace the seniors who graduated.
Center of Attention
While most of the Gamecocks skill players return in 2018, they do have a few holes to fill along the offensive line. Most notably is replacing Alan Knott at center. O-Line coach Eric Wolford will look to find a replacement during spring football. The likely candidates will be red-shirt freshman Eric Douglas or true freshman Hank Manos. Manos is an early enrollee and will be practicing in the spring. It is also possible Donnell Stanley could get a look at center as well. He started every game a season ago, playing both right and left guard. The rest of the line will be made up of players returning from last season. Having a young player at a position like center is a tough task, but the experience of the guys around whoever takes over should help out.
Springboard to 2018
The Gamecocks will head into next season with expectations higher than they have been in five years. The combination of a young core returning, a favorable schedule, and the steady improvement in Coach Muschamp’s first two seasons will have the bar set high. The SEC is always a grind, so nothing will be taken for granted. That being said, South Carolina is set up to succeed for the first time in a while. Now it’s up to this team to utilize spring football to improve and prepare to meet high expectations in 2018.
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