By Jeff Owens/Photo by Allen Sharpe
Head coach Will Muschamp has been preaching toughness since last spring and urging his players to be more physical this season.
It shows at the start of every practice as players line up for the "Cock drill," where blockers take on defenders one-on-one, trying to open a lane for a trailing runner. The drill features plenty of contact and, if done correctly, usually leaves someone on the ground.
"It fires us up and gets us going," said quarterback Jake Bentley, who is an innocent bystander since he's not allowed to participate in the drill. "The guys are enjoying getting after it. They enjoy smacking the pads together and getting after it. It gets the whole team kinda fired up for practice."
The drill is part of Muschamp's mission to make his second Gamecock team tougher and more physical, and it's starting to show in training camp.
"He makes practice to where there is no choice but to be physical. If you don't go out there with the right mindset, you are going to be on the ground a lot," sophomore tight end Kyle Markway said. "It forces you to be physical, which is good because in the past we haven't been that physical."
"It's just impressive what we are doing right now," tight end Hayden Hurst said. "Coach Muschamp has been preaching. He wants us to be physical and our practices have been just that. It's fun getting in there and hitting ...
"He wants guys going 100 percent in every drill and I don't think anybody is holding back."
The increased physicality is not only designed to make the players stronger and tougher, but it's a direct result of their being more competition at nearly every position in Muschamp's second season. Except for quarterback and possibly linebacker, where the coaches are looking for depth, the Gamecocks have stiff competition at almost every position, including across both lines.
"It's been a lot more physical," said junior wide receiver Terry Googer. "It's a battle for playing time so everyone is out there being physical and trying to prove themselves to the coaches and prove they belong on the field."
"You can tell it's a whole lot more physical than last camp," guard Donell Stanley said. "It's practice seven and we had two physical days over the past few days. It's been tough out there."
"It's a totally different culture," senior center Alan Knott said. "Guys are wanting to get better and wanting to go hard against each other to get things right. If we don't, you go in there on Saturday and if you didn't go hard in practice the week before, you know that guy (on defense) is going to go hard on you and you might not be ready for it."
Hurst and other players are calling training camp "Muschamp practices" as a way of describing how hard they are being pushed and what their head coach wants to see.
"It's the physicality that coach preaches and the way he wants them run, a 100 percent in every single drill," Hurst said. "That's what he wants and that's what he's getting."
And what if a player doesn't show the effort or toughness the coaches want.
"The next guy will," Hurst said.
Stanley and Knott said the offensive line is starting to round into shape, with the likely starters emerging. Knott is set at center with senior Cory Helms at right guard and Zack Bailey, who played left guard last year, moving to right tackle. Stanley is running with the first team at left guard, with junior Malik Young and junior-college transfer Dennis Daley battling for the left tackle position.
There is fierce competition on the defensive line as well, but multiple players said one senior has stood out there.
"Taylor Stallworth has taken a tremendous leap in his play," Knott said. "He's a real solid player for us right now there in the middle."
"He's in that three tech and he's controlling that A-gap, and he's been something to block in there," Hurst said.
Stallworth started all 13 games last year and has 18 starts over his three seasons. He had 41 tackles, including three for loss, last year. Knott said he appears much quicker this season.
"He's fast, real fast for a big guy, something I haven't' seen out of him in the past," he said. "He's really quick. He's making me a better player in this camp. He's looking real good."
The Gamecocks are off tomorrow before resuming practice on Thursday.