The South Carolina Gamecocks head into the 2014 campaign with eight of last season’s 11 starters on offense returning, meaning hopes should be high in Columbia. Here’s how the offensive depth chart should shake out come August 28.
The Gamecock football team has come a long way since Spurrier took the reins in 2005. Long gone, it seems, are the days of playing three quarterbacks in the season opener and hoping that one of them messes up less than the others. Nine years ago, it would have been completely unimaginable that the Gamecocks could be in a position where the most successful and charismatic quarterback in school history could graduate and there would be little expectation of a drop-off the next season, yet here we are. Not only has Dylan Thompson proven that he has more than enough ability to run the offense efficiently, he has been able to come up big in clutch situations time and again. The problem that the Gamecocks face is the lack of depth behind Thompson. Brendan Nosovitch and Perry Orth have seen limited time on the field and have yet to play a meaningful snap, while Connor Mitch has yet to step on the field. Steve Spurrier and G.A. Mangus are excited about having Mitch as their future, but they will be hoping that he is not forced into action this year. Keeping Thompson healthy will be a primary objective of the offense in 2014.
Dylan Thompson, Connor Mitch, Brendan Nosovitch
Another trend that has contributed to South Carolina’s recent success is great success running the ball. This starts up front with the offensive line, a position that has not historically been a strength for the Gamecocks, but of course, one cannot have a good running game without good running backs. Here, the Gamecocks go four deep, comfortably. Mike Davis is on pre-season Heisman watch lists after an excellent year last year, but for all his explosiveness and power, Davis has not proven to the most durable back. Somewhere between 18-22 carries seems to be the best number to maximize his effectiveness. The rest of the primary carries however, will not be lost. Brandon Wilds has shown more than enough ability and is less the no. 2 running back and more no. 1a. Not only does he deserve his share of the carries (he could start just about anywhere in the country), it will be integral to keeping Davis healthy and fresh for the long, grueling, gauntlet that is life in the SEC.
TLDR: If the Gamecocks run 40 times a game and Davis only gets 22 of those carries, it will be just as well.
Mike Davis/Brandon Wilds, David Williams, Shon Carson
Chris Edel has more on the running backs here
Wide Receiver The departure of Bruce Ellington (right) not only leaves a chasm in terms of production at receiver (Ellington accounted for 20% of the Gamecock’s receptions (49) and 23% of the total receiving yards (775)), but the Gamecocks also lose a
proven playmaker. The number of clutch, fourth quarter, “Bon Jovi ‘Livin’ on a Prayer'” grabs he made seems innumerable. In Ellington’s absence, Shaq Roland will look to become Thompson’s top target and live up to the hype that has followed him through the years. He showed flashes of it early in his career and has only gotten more consistent since arriving at South Carolina, setting the stage for what could be a breakout year. Behind him, Damiere Byrd and Nick Jones will duke it out for the top slot spot (say that three times fast). Pharoh Cooper should lock up the third receiver spot, not only because he has emerged a receiving talent, but also because having him on the field forces the defense to pay extra attention to this athlete that can throw the ball as well as he can catch and run.
Shaq Roland, Damiere Byrd, Pharoh Cooper, Nick Jones, Shamier Jeffrey, Carlton Heard
Chris Edel has a more in-depth look at the wide receiver position here.
As of late, South Carolina has been blessed with gobs of talent at the tight end position, from the days of now-St. Louis-Ram Jared Cook, to Indianapolis Colt Weslye Saunders, to Mr. Reliable: Justice Cunningham, and now Rory “Busta” Anderson and Jerell Adams. Busta made a huge splash early in his career, when he seemed to do nothing but catch touchdown passes (three of his first eight career receptions). His production has declined over the past two seasons, due in part to the emergence of Jarell Adams as the next star at tight end, though he still remains as big a threat as ever. Anderson and Adams are both playmaking, pass-catching tight ends first and foremost. It will be up to Thompson to take advantage of the mismatches that having a couple of big, athletic tight ends will create.
Busta Anderson, Jarell Adams, Drew Owens
Saving the best for last, Shawn Elliot’s unit returns four of five starters from an offensive line that was very strong last year. Returning 6-foot-7 and 6-foot-8 bookends at tackle in Brandon Shell and Corey Robinson looks pretty good on paper. When you add in their 45 combined starts then it starts to look pretty good on the field too. The interior line is anchored by pre-season All-American A.J. Cann. The other guard spot will be Mike Matulis’ to lose. He was thrown into the fire early in his Gamecock football career out of necessity and played well before he was derailed by a shoulder injury that required surgery. After a long rehab process, his much anticipated return was spoiled not long after returning by another shoulder injury, which also required surgery. Finally healthy, and having gained back the weight that he lost after his surgeries, Matulis is finally ready cement his role as a permanent starter. At center, both Cody Waldrop and Clayton Stadnik played well last season and at this point are nearly interchangeable. Shawn Elliot could conceivably have the luxury of utilizing a “center by committee” approach, playing whichever guy has the hot hand. How many coaches are lucky enough to have one great center?
Corey Robinson (LT), A.J. Cann (LG), Cody Waldrop (C), Mike Matulis (RG), Brandon Shell (RT), Mason Zandi, Brock Stadnik, Clayton Stadnik, Will Sport, Na’ty Rodgers