By Jeff Owens/Photos by Allen Sharpe and Jeff Owens
After 11 days of training camp, Will Muschamp has plenty of things to be excited about, from the continued development of quarterback Jake Bentley to the emergence of some freshman playmakers at receiver and in the secondary.
But perhaps the most encouraging sign is the fierce competition across both lines of scrimmage and the development of some possible depth on the offensive and defensive lines. Both were major points of emphasis going into training camp.
"We have had good contact and I feel like we are (getting off) blocks much better, we are disengaging blocks much better up front and we are sustaining blocks offensively better than we have before," Muschamp said after Saturday's scrimmage at Williams-Brice Stadium. "I think we are stronger as a football team. The players are playing with more confidence, because the stronger you are and the more endurance you have the more confidence you are going to have as a player."
The defensive line has been an area of particular emphasis throughout the offseason, with Muschamp challenging his three seniors to step up in the interior line and looking for more pass rush on the edge.
Right now, seniors Taylor Stallworth and Ulric Jones appear set on the inside at defensive tackle, with fellow senior Dante Sawyer swinging back and forth between defensive end and tackle. D.J. Wonnum, the probable starter at the Buck position, has had an outstanding camp, Muschamp said.
The primary backups are Kobe Smith and Keir Thomas, who both played last year as freshman, with 6-6, 330-pound giant Javon Kinlaw expected to help inside. Muschamp and other coaches have also praised true freshman Aaron Sterling, who is challenging for playing time.
"Aaron Sterling is a young player who is coming along and flashing some," Muschamp said. "I don't want to get ahead of ourselves on that … but I do think those guys have responded to our challenges as coaches to improve the four-man rush."
Another key emphasis in finding depth at linebacker, where seniors Skai Moore and Bryson Allen-Williams are paired with sophomore T.J. Brunson, who played last year as a freshman. Muschamp said all three have been impressive in camp, but finding depth is key. Right now, true freshman Sherrod Greene and junior college transfer Eldridge Thompson are the primary backups.
"Sherrod Greene is going to be a really good football player, but it's a new day every day," Muschamp said. "Eldridge Thompson has come on the last few practices and quit worrying about making a mistake and just going and making a play. We have five guys we have confidence in."
There is also intense competition along the offensive line, with the best battle featuring junior Malik Young and junior college transfer Dennis Daily at left tackle. Redshirt freshman Sadarius Hutcherson has moved inside and is battling with starter Donell Stanley at left guard.
Muschamp said he likes Daley's agility and length at 6-6, 330 pounds.
"Right now we have Malik and Dennis really battling out there," Muschamp said. "Both of those guys have had their moments. I think that is a position that lacks focus when we get fatigued and we need to continue to work on that.
"So much of that left tackle position is dependability. We have to continue to work with (Daley) and Malik and multiple guys."
Stanley appears set at left guard, with seniors Cory Helms and Alan Knott at right guard and center, respectively. Junior Zack Bailey, who started the last two seasons, has been moved from guard to right tackle, where he is battling with Blake Camper. Young can also play right tackle, while Helms will be the primary backup at center.
Hutcherson and senior D.J. Park provide depth, while Muschamp said that freshmen Chandler Farrell, Eric Douglas and Jordan Rhodes have looked good.
Muschamp credits new offensive line coach John Wolford for his work up front. Wolford, who coached at South Carolina under Steve Spurrier in 2009, returned after a stint as head coach at Youngstown State and with the San Francisco 49ers in the NFL.
"There is no recruiting (in the NFL), so all you do is study football and find answers for exotic pressures on third down. I think he is offering a lot of experience to our offensive staff and to our coaching staff," Muschamp said. "He has been a tremendous asset to me from the standpoint of having sat in the seat before."