Observations from the Gamecocks first 5 spring practices
March 15, 2020, Henry Fusco
Multiple coaches and players have spoken, and a few practices were open. Let's talk observation
- First, the staff is looking for more offensive play-makers: South Carolina offensive coordinator Mike Bobo came back to the point several times that he didn’t think the team had enough depth at the receiver spot. The identity of the offense likely won’t be set, he said, until players such as Rico Powers and Ger-Cari Caldwell are in the mix. All told, the Gamecocks are short six freshman or junior college play-makers who will enroll this summer.
- A defensive change from last year looking like it will continue: With a secondary that ran about four deep in reliable players, the Gamecocks went with nickel less often and more of their “regular” three-linebacker package. That meant a lot of Sherrod Greene usually replacing J.T. Ibe. Defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson said they were in that look 20% to 30% last season and he expects the number will be higher. At the moment, Damani Staley and Greene are splitting the top weakside and strongside roles around Ernest Jones, as the team has to replace longtime starter T.J. Brunson.
- RB MarShawn Lloyd will be a big improvement for the running game: The running back from Maryland was brought in as a borderline five-star recruit and stepped into position short on experience. All the early reviews were strong, with multiple defenders saying he shook them in various scenarios. There will be more players joining the backfield after spring, but Lloyd looks to have a prominent role regardless.
- QB Ryan Hilinski is showing no ill effects from last season, and he’s talking to Bobo: Hilinski took a beating by the end of last year as USC’s starting quarterback. Between a nagging knee injury and a barrage of hits, his footwork had issues and other problems flowed from that. Both Will Muschamp and Bobo spoke highly of the way Hilinski has thrown the ball, prepared and improved that footwork early on in spring. For his part, Hilinski said Bobo is lighting a bit of a fire under players.
- The safety position still has question needing a answer: Veteran R.J. Roderick is a given at one spot, but he’s been nursing a hamstring issue early in spring. Veteran Jaylin Dickerson is also getting a lot of work, but he’s missed about two and a half of his three seasons on campus. Jammie Robinson, last year’s nickel, moves between safety and nickel, and redshirt freshman Shilo Sanders is also working there. Israel Mukuamu has also dabbled at the spot. The staff moved freshman Dominick Hill from corner to safety and sent fellow freshman O’Donnell Fortune outside. All told, the staff likely needs someone to step up as a consistent second option, lest Robinson has to move there full time.
- The staff wants another corner to step up: Veterans Jaycee Horn and Mukuamu comprised a solid pair of starting sophomores last season. But players such as Cam Smith, John Dixon, and Fortune were all mentioned as having the ability to push them. If one can, that could allow Horn to play more nickel, where he played as a freshman, or let Mukuamu help at safety, which might be a more natural fit. Dixon is also working at nickel, but at 185 pounds he might run into some matchup issues because of his size.
- WR Shi Smith still the top deep option in the passing game: Bobo twice mentioned returning wide receiver starter Shi Smith as the team’s best deep option. South Carolina had mostly been working on the short passing game early, but Smith delivered one long bomb. The coach lamented not having more guys who could take the top off the defense, hoping Powers and Caldwell would help there. He was also asked about Smith as a speed sweep guy and implied the senior’s deep threat factor was more important in the short term.
- Can you believe the offensive line is the most settled unit on that side of the ball: The Gamecocks have four full-season starters back from last season on the offensive line, plus four other players who have started at least one game. They also added a junior college tackle (Jazston Turnetine) who could fight his way into a starting spot. Bobo called it the best unit in the first week and a half of practice, in part because the competition for snaps has been strong. Bobo also noted Hank Manos and Eric Douglas have been getting the most work at the vacant center position.
- Still feeling out a punter: Gamecock head coach Will Muschamp can’t talk specifically about Kai Kroger, but he said enough to indicate the freshman set to sign and enroll in August will have a strong chance in the punting competition. Christian Kinsley, a Kennesaw State transfer, has been handling many of those duties this spring, but Muschamp said that battle won’t be settled until fall.
- WR Dakereon Joyner has a decent chance to factor in as a pass-catcher: The former quarterback is finally getting to go full-time at wide receiver after bouncing between two positions last fall. Bobo mentioned him as one of the top receivers who caught his attention in the first few practices. Hilinski also said he’s building a good rapport with the former four-star passer. With OrTre Smith limited some in the early practices, the team only had at most seven scholarship wide receivers available.
- The QB position still looking: Hilinski has looked good and freshman Luke Doty has shown off some accuracy in the early going. But the fact is, this team will have to wait for the summer for graduate transfer Collin Hill to get on the field after a torn ACL. He’s been steeped in Bobo’s offense for four seasons, and the coach said, “We’ll see and when Collin gets healthy and gets out there, you know, what’s going to happen with him.”