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Five Burning Questions Going into the 2012 South Carolina Gamecocks Football Season: Offensive Line

This post continues our series of positions previews. Today, we're talking about the offensive line.

1. Who starts at right guard? On what otherwise looks like one of the best starting lines we've had in recent memory, Ronald Patrick sticks out like a bit of a sore thumb. That's not to say that Patrick isn't a good player. He is, and the coaches have been impressed by his development. He's put in his time in the weight room and has grown into his large frame. He's looked solid when given a chance to play in mop-up time. Still, along with Brandon Shell, Patrick is the biggest unknown on the current starting lineup, and with Shell, we have reason to believe we have an excellent player. If Patrick steps up and gets it done this year, I think we could have a great line on our hands. If not, expect some shuffling as we try to find a combination that works. I could see us moving Shell to guard and putting Cody Gibson in at Shell's tackle spot.

2. Do we have enough depth at guard? This one goes along with the first question. Past starters Patrick and stalwart LG A.J. Cann, we don't have anyone on the two-deep at guard that I have a ton of confidence in. Like I said, we could move Shell over if necessary, but if we had a rash of injuries that included something that kept Shell at tackle, I'm afraid we'd be in trouble at guard if Patrick or (heaven forbid) Cann go down. In fact, I think it's probably more likely that you'd see one of the incoming freshmen get a look before any of the current backups, which would put us back to where we were at the middle of last season: talented, but forced to rely on true freshmen linemen in the SEC. Never good.

3. Can Carolina place an OL on the All-SEC first team? Carolina's offensive line has not been well-represented on the All-SEC lists over the years. During the line's recent resurgence under Shawn Elliott, we've placed some guys like Garrett Chisolm on the lower-team lists, and we finally broke through and placed Rokevious Watkins on the first team list last season. Can we do it again? T.J. Johnson probably has the best chance, and Cann should be in contention for a spot somewhere, too.

4. How good can Brandon Shell be as a RS freshman? Shell is our most heralded OL recruit in recent years, and after he redshirted last year due to injury, Carolina fans finally get to see him in action this season. He has reportedly done everything asked of him since he arrived on campus--he's filled in his frame and is now a massive 330, and he's done an admirable job of learning the play book. Is he good enough to come in and instantly be one of the league's best tackles? Doesn't happen often in the SEC, but let's hope this is one of those rare players who can do it.

5. How will Carolina's line do against Georgia and LSU? There are two games that I have circled where we'll get to see just what our OL has: Georgia and LSU. Both opponents field incredible defensive lines that will seriously test our pass protection. If we can give Connor Shaw time to throw in these two games, we'll know that we've finally achieved our goals on the offensive line. If we can't, there's still work to be done.