Kenny McKinley finished his career at South Carolina as one of the most distinguished players ever to take the field as a Gamecock. He holds almost every significant receiving record, ousting former greats such as Sidney Rice and Sterling Sharpe. McKinley was also a positive force off the field. He stayed out of trouble, inspired his teammates, and always appeared to be incredibly dedicated to his team.
He also accounted for a disproportionately large portion of our receiving offense. He, Jared Cook, and Mike Davis--all of whom won't be back next year--accounted for 49% of the team's receiving yards, with McKinley leading the way with 642 of the trio's 1428 yards. And let's not forget, of course, that McKinley tallied these numbers despite missing a handful of games after suffering a hamstring injury against Vandy. The fact that Cook had almost as many yards as McKinley deceives one regarding just how central McKinley was when he was playing, as McKinley missed the Georgia, Wofford, and UAB games.
While some might disagree with me, I believe that Cook and Davis won't be terribly hard to replace. Cook was a great player and promises to be a good pro, but waiting to fill in for him is Weslye Saunders, who was very effective as a backup last year. Although he had his moments, Davis's senior season was an overall disappointment. Based on how the spring played out, we have reason to believe that we'll get much more out of the tailback position this year than we did last year.
The same can't be said for McKinley, though. True, we do have some receivers with experience who may be ready to take on bigger roles as go-to receivers this season; all, though, have question marks surrounding them. Jason Barnes played well at times last year, especially while McKinley was being worked back into the offense during the Ole Miss and Kentucky games, where he racked up 76 and 88 yards, respectively. However, Barnes seemed to disappear after McKinley returned to full strength. Moe Brown has also had his ups and downs during his time at Carolina. Brown had a breakout game last year against UGA while McKinley was sidelined, catching for 130 yards. However, he too seemed to disappear later in the season. Dion LeCorn is another candidate. LeCorn came on strong and showed lots of promise late in 2007. LeCorn too, though, had an inconsistent 2008; although he looked like he would be a significant part of the offense early in the season, he was moved to defense in the second half of the year. The coaching staff moved him back to offense during spring, though.
Every team needs a go-to receiver, a guy a quarterback can count on to consistently get open and to catch a ball in traffic when nobody can get open. While some teams have found success in the passing game without such a player--think last year's Florida team, where Tim Tebow distributed fairly evenly between Louis Murphy, Percy Harvin, and Aaron Hernandez--such offenses are rare. It will be tough to find a guy who can be as productive as McKinley, but finding someone that can come close to doing so will be key for this offense.