There are three position groups where the Gamecocks are particularly strong going into next season.
Below is a full breakdown, along with who is expected to start and what freshmen could make an early contribution for the Gamecocks.
If you’ve watched Carolina football for a long time, the offensive line has always been a weak point. The fact this is the first area of strength I thought of is a testament to offensive line coach Eric Wolford.
This selection has more to do with him than any of his players. He’s proven during his time in Columbia that he knows what he’s doing and will have them ready to play no matter the personnel.
The Gamecocks lose Zack Bailey and Dennis Daley to the NFL, but bring back plenty of talent and promise. Sadarius Hutcherson will make the move to left tackle to replace Bailey, which Wolford talks about here.
The other returnees are Dylan Wonnum at right tackle, who made the SEC All-Freshman team and Donnell Stanley who moves back to his natural position at guard.
Those three will be the anchors of the line, while Stanley moving opens up a spot at center. That likely will go to Hank Manos, who started against Virginia in the Belk Bowl. That leaves the other guard spot, which could go to Jovaughn Gwyn, Eric Douglas, or Jordan Rhodes.
I believe coach Wolford will be able to keep this unit playing at an elite level even though the shifting of positions and departures.
Having the first two areas of strength be the lines is always a good sign, especially if you want to compete in the SEC. If not for injuries, this would’ve been a strength last season also.
After a monster sophomore season and high expectations, D.J. Wonnum was limited to 5 games because of a nagging ankle injury that plagued him throughout the season. If he’s healthy, he’ll headline a unit comprised of Javon Kinlaw, Keir Thomas, and Aaron Sterling.
The most exciting part is, those are just the upperclassmen. Freshman superstar Zacch Pickens is joined by Kinglsey Enagbare, Rick Sandidge, and Joseph Anderson, all underclassmen who should contribute.
This group has depth that we haven’t seen in Columbia in a long time and new defensive line coach John Scott Jr. should have plenty of players to work with.
This is the position group Gamecock fans should be the most excited about.
Rashad Fenton and Keisean Nixon are gone. However, there’s a ton of talent from the returning players to the incoming freshmen.
Last season, Jaycee Horn was the best corner on the team by a wide margin, which was evident week one against Coastal. Fighting through injury, he still made the aforementioned SEC All-Freshman team.
He’s expected to play on the outside with Israel Mukuamu, a rare 6’4” cornerback who can actually move. The potential for this tandem is limitless and the thing I’m looking forward to the most next season.
Jamyest Williams can play either nickel or safety but hasn’t found a place to stick yet in his two years. A.J. Turner is practicing at corner, which he played in the bowl game. He is joined by incoming freshman Cameron Smith, Johnny Dixon, and Shilo Sanders.
Safety is a little less clear at the moment but Southern Cal transfer Jamel Cook is expected to start after sitting out last season. Redshirt Senior J.T. Ibe could start next to him but will face competition from R.J. Roderick, who showed promise at the end of the year.
Others considered will be Jaylin Dickerson, Jonathon Gipson, and freshman Jammie Robinson who I’d bet will be on the field by the end of the season.
Defensive Coordinator Travaris Robinson coaches the DB’s himself and these guys will allow him to finally play physical, which is how he wants to.
The defensive line should help the defensive backs and vice versa. A better pass rush allows them to cover for shorter periods of time, and better coverage allows more time for pass rush.
This could be the key to a transformed defense, much like the ones we saw under Will Muschamp at Florida.
The offensive line is critical to offensive success because Jake Bentley is less than stellar with pressure in his face and the running backs…well, they will be in next week’s article about the weakest position groups on the team.
While these aren’t the only positions that lead to success, offensive and defensive line and defensive back are three of the most important and will be critical with next year’s brutal schedule.