This post continues our discussion of which 2014 recruits have a chance to make an impact right away. Today, we're talking about offense. Given that we have a lot of returning talent on offense, it's less likely that you'll see true freshmen making a big impact on that side of the ball. The same was true last year, though, and Pharoh Cooper still ended up being a difference-maker with a big performance against Clemson, albeit in the unconventional wildcat role. Is there a Cooper in this year's class? Let's take a look.
It's unlikely that QB commit Michael Scarnecchia will play this year. Steve Spurrier has emphasized that the job is Dylan Thompson's to lose, and if Thompson loses it to anybody, it's going to be Connor Mitch or Brendan Nosovitch, not Scarnecchia. Scarnecchia isn't going to back down from competition, though, as he revealed in his interview with our colleague Connor Tapp:
"But it's not really enough for me," Scarnecchia says. "Getting that offer and signing, it's great and everything. But it's just in the past now. I'm really working to get that starting job when I'm up there in my first couple of years and I'm just going to work for it."
Take this with a grain of salt because I'm not a scout and haven't watched the kid workout, but from seeing his video highlights, you can tell why Coach Spurrier liked him so much. He's tall yet moves in the pocket well, has a cannon for an arm and puts the ball where it needs to be, and makes good decisions. If he's coachable, you could easily see how he might be a good QB for us down the road.
One freshman who might play early on offense is Joe Blue, who the Gamecocks recruited as a fullback. The two players who saw time at the position last year were walk-ons Connor McLaurin and, sparingly, Garrison Gist. Neither played much as Carolina generally ran out of the shotgun with one back when Connor Shaw was at QB. The coaches ran the I-formation more when Thompson played, so you may see the fullback get back onto the field more often this season. With all due respect to McLaurin, who looked good blocking when he got the chance, Blue may give us talent at the position that we haven't had in recent years. He's a hard hitter who should be a good lead-blocker, and he's a legitimate running and catching threat after playing tailback at Dillon. After watching LSU and UGA get big plays from fullbacks with running ability over the past couple of years, I'm curious to see if Spurrier can get similar results out of a player like Blue.
Another player to watch for in a similar role is Kevin Crosby, who the coaches may use as an h-back similar to how Patrick DiMarco was used in 2010. As you'll recall, in 2010 we had some formations with Garcia lined up in the shotgun and DiMarco lined up behind the offensive line as an h-back. You can see DiMarco make several key blocks for Marcus Lattimore out of these formations in highlights of the UGA game from that year. DiMarco was also a receiving threat. We haven't run out of these formations much since then, but clearly, it's something our coaches would be interested in doing with the right personnel. Crosby provides that option.
It's safe to say, in any event, that you're likely to see more FB/h-back looks this year than we have since 2010.
As with QB, you generally don't see offensive linemen make a big impact in their true freshmen seasons. Just as QBs need time to learn complex college offenses, linemen need time to fill out physically. Having to press a lineman on the field too early is usually a sign of poor planning by the coaches. Thankfully, Carolina returns four starters on the line next season along with several good depth guys. The Gamecocks did sign two good guard prospects in Donnell Stanley and Malik Young. Stanley was among the nation's top prospects at the position, while Young rose in the rankings late in the process and is a sleeper favorite. Both should redshirt this year, though.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Even with the loss of Bruce Ellington, the Gamecocks return no shortage of talent at wide receiver and tight end. Rory "Busta" Anderson and Jerrell Adams return at end and should see an increased role in the offense with Thompson understand center, as Thompson aggressively works the middle of the field more so than Shaw did. At receiver, likely starters will be Shaq Roland at split end ("x"), Damiere Byrd at flanker ("z"), and Pharoh Cooper at slot. Nick Jones will also likely compete for substantial playing time. Jones has played flanker when he's seen the field, and given that Byrd is adept at all three positions, you may see Roland, Jones, and Byrd lineups oftentimes, as well. Shamier Jeffery, Kwinton Smith, and K.J. Brent also look to compete for playing time; all three have shown potential but haven't been able to break into the starting lineup given the logjam of receivers we've had lately. As much as we've lacked a Sidney Rice- or Alshon Jeffery-esque star at receiver over the past couple of years, we've been very solid. I can't really think of notable poor plays by these guys last year, and it's impressive that we able to weather Roland's suspension without missing too much of a beat.
With such a loaded depth chart at receiver, it seems unlikely that any of our incoming recruits will see the field much this year. We do bring in some good talent at the position, though. Tyshun "Deebo" Samuel might be the most likely to see the field early. Samuel was ignored by the recruiting services early on because he didn't earn a qualifying score until late in the process, but after doing so and receiving an offer from Carolina that he promptly accepted, he was given a 92 rating by 247. That's the same as what the better-known Shaq Davidson received, and Samuel comes in as a bit more polished receiver than Davidson because Davidson spent most of his high-school career at QB. Still, the most likely place for Samuel to see the field as a freshman is as a return man, where he excelled in high school. As for Davidson, he has a bright future but could use a year to put on weight and continue learning the receiver position. Kalan Ritchie comes in as a TE recruit, although there's been some talk of moving him to defense. .
While none of these guys is likely to be a major cog in the 2014 offense, they could play a big role in 2015. The Gamecocks lose Byrd, Jones, and Anderson to graduation, while Adams and especially Roland may opt for the draft if they have good seasons. It was important to rebuild the lower tier of the depth chart at receiver this cycle, and we did that with some excellent prospects.