By Jeff Owens/Photo by Allen Sharpe
South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp was looking for answers to some key questions in Saturday's scrimmage at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Has the defense improved?
Who will provide the pass rush?
How will the veteran offensive line shake out?
But more importantly, Muschamp and his staff are looking for depth at almost every position.
"(We're looking for) dependable play," Muschamp said. "Can we depend on you, can we count on you? When you get fatigued and get tired, are you going to do your job at a high level and not let your teammates down?
"We've got to find more and more players that we can count on and put in the game and understand that they are going to play at a high level and high tempo and understand how we are going to play football here at South Carolina."
Here's a position-by-position look at what we learned from Saturday's scrimmage:
Overall, Muschamp was pleased with the effort and performance of his defense, particularly the defensive line, which has been under pressure to step up its game. The defense made some stops and created some turnovers on Saturday.
He was particularly pleased with the progress of his pass rush, a key emphasis in camp. Linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams is being used at the Buck position in pass-rushing situations. Muschamp also praised sophomore defensive end D.J. Wonnum, who he said "has had an outstanding camp."
Senior Taylor Stallworth has drawn praise from coaches and teammates at defensive tackle and Muschamp said defensive end Dante Sawyer has moved inside in certain situations to give the group some rush up the middle. Freshman Aaron Sterling also has been impressive, Muschamp said.
"I do think those guys have responded to our challenges as coaches to improve the four-man rush," he said.
He is still concerned, however, about depth in the front seven.
"I do like our first group that we roll out there, but we have to have some guys continue to step up and be more consistent guys," he said.
The starting quarterback was impressive in Saturday's scrimmage, making some nice throws and showing a greater command of the offense. Muschamp said Bentley has shown progress in not only running the offense, but recognizing coverages and protections and getting players in the right spots.
"It's a different player at quarterback right now as far as his knowledge of what we do and what we need to be successful with," Muschamp said. "We're putting a lot on his plate, and deservedly so."
The coaching staff is also looking for depth on the offensive line, but there appears to be plenty of options and, according to Muschamp, some fierce competition.
The most intriguing battle is at left tackle, where junior Malik Young and junior college transfer Dennis Daley are competing for the starting job. Muschamp said both players "have had their moments," but must continue to work on conditioning and maintaining focus. He likes Daley's mobility at 330 pounds.
Redshirt freshman Sadarius Hutcherson, who was expected to compete at left tackle, has been moved to guard and is backing up Donell Stanley. "He's more of a girth guy that can get movement in the inside zone, and we need guys who can get more movement inside for us," Muschamp said.
Zack Bailey appears set to start at right tackle, though Blake Camper is pushing him. Young, who started there last year, can also play both tackle spots.
Two players Muschamp is not concerned about are seniors Alan Knott and Cory Helms. Both are healthy and stronger and set to start at center and right guard, with Helms also serving as Knott's backup at center.
"Those are two tough dudes and they are going to fight for the Gamecocks and they are going to play well for us this year," Muschamp said. "Alan is a very dependable player, and Cory could be our backup center. I'm glad both those guys are in South Carolina uniforms. "
The Gamecocks also need depth at linebacker, where Allen-Williams, Skai Moore and T.J. Brunson will be the starters. Muschamp said Moore, who is returning from a neck injury, is having a great camp.
Freshmen Sherrod Greene and Eldridge Thompson have emerged as the primary backups.
"We have five guys we have confidence in," Muschamp said.
Starters Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards have both had great camps, but Muschamp is looking for more playmakers at the position. Beyond junior Terry Googer, the offense is looking for more depth.
The two players who have shined so far are freshmen Shi Smith and OrTre Smith. Both made plays during the scrimmage and continue to impress. While OrTre is a bit target at 6-4, Muschamp said Shi Smith is "an electric guy that can make plays with the ball in his hands."
A big part of the offense is finding different ways to get Samuel involved in the offense. Samuel scored nine touchdowns last season — six rushing, one receiving and two on returns.
"Deebo is extremely bright. He can play outside, he can play inside, he can play running back, he can do a lot of different things for us," he said. "The more you put him in different spots, the harder he is to defend."
The Gamecocks also have fierce competition at running back, where Rico Dowdle, Ty'Son Williams and A.J. Turner form a three-back attack. Dowdle and Turner combined for more than 1,200 yards rushing last season.
While Dowdle and Williams figure to get the majority of the carries, Muschamp wants to find ways to get the speedy Turner on the field.
"Ty'Son and Rico have very similar running styles and A.J. gives us a little bit different style," Muschamp said. "We need to get the ball in A.J.'s hands as well."
The secondary is one of the deepest positions on the team, though it was without three players Saturday. Freshman Jaylin Dickerson was lost for the season with a shoulder injury and safety Steven Montac has a fractured foot and will miss at least 10 days. Safety D.J. Smith was out Saturday due to the death of his grandfather.
Rashad Fenton is expected to start at one corner spot, while Chris Lammons is working at corner, nickel and safety in camp and will likely play multiple spots. Muschamp said senior corner JaMarcus King needs to be more consistent.
The group is being pushed by freshmen corners Jamyest Williams and Tavyn Jackson and safety Keisean Nixon, a JUCO transfer. Muschamp said all three will play.
While Samuel and Edwards form one of the best receiving duos in the SEC, one of the most impressive players in camp is junior tight end Hayden Hurst, who hauled in a long pass from Bentley on a wheel route Saturday. Hurst, a former minor league baseball player, played wide receiver as a freshman before moving to tight end last year and setting a school record for receptions by a tight end.
"His biggest talent to me is his competitive edge," Muschamp said. "That guy competes when he gets on the field, whether it's practice, whether it's a scrimmage or it's a game. You are going to see the same Hayden every time."
Michael Scarnecchi is firmly entrenched as the backup quarterback, running all 50 snaps with the second team Saturday. True freshman Jay Urich ran the third team and has impressed Muschamp.
"Those guys have made progress," he said. "I have been pleased with their work ethic and their investment."
Muschamp is also pleased with the progress of the special teams unit, which will be relying on all young players. Kicker Alex Woznick, a redshirt freshman, booted a 52-yard field goal Saturday that Muschamp said would have been good from 60 yards. Freshman Parker White also kicked a field goal.
Woznick will be the placekicker, with White handling kickoffs. Joseph Charlton and Michael Almond are competing for punting duties, while Ben Asbury will likely be the long-snapper.
The return game will feature Samuel and Turner on kickoffs and either Lammons, Jam Williams or Shi Smith on punt returns.