With the news of one beloved Gamecock's potential departure comes a more heartening report out of Capital One Bowl practice: the Gamecocks may return all but one offensive lineman in 2014.
Redshirt sophomore OL Brandon Shell says he sent in his papers to the NFL advisory committee but he's coming back next season.— Wes Mitchell (@WesMitchell247) December 28, 2013
Per @gogamecocks, South Carolina OLs AJ Cann, Corey Robinson, Brandon Shell all filed for NFLDAB feedback, but Shell says all will return.— Chase Goodbread (@ChaseGoodbread) December 28, 2013
Of course, Shell's declaration that he and his linemates will return in 2014 is much stronger evidence that he won't be declaring for the 2014 NFL Draft than it is that either A.J. Cann or Corey Robinson won't be. But, in the absence of statements to the contrary from Cann or Robinson, it should give Gamecock fans reasonable assurance that four fifths of their 2013 offensive line (minus graduating right guard Ronald Patrick) will remain intact. Robinson, in particular, was expected to give the NFL a hard look, but if he decides to come back, he might be considered among the top left tackles in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Corey Robinson has the highest ceiling of the three. Could be top LT in SEC next year if other top juniors all come out.— Chase Goodbread (@ChaseGoodbread) December 28, 2013
As for the right guard position that Patrick is vacating, there exist several replacement candidates, the most likely of which seems to be true freshman Na'Ty Rodgers. Though he has the size and athleticism to play tackle, Rodgers has spent most of 2013 working as a backup at guard and appears to have won the favor of offensive line coach Shawn Elliott during his first year on campus. Keeping him at guard for another year until Robinson and Shell leave for the NFL could serve the dual purpose of getting the five best lineman on the field while getting Rodgers a year of ever-so-valuable SEC experience, even if it's at a position that he's not expected to play longterm.
Other options include true freshman Bryce King and redshirt sophomore Will Sport. It's also been suggested that occasional starting center Cody Waldrop could slide to the guard position due to the surprising emergence of center Clayton Stadnik. (Also, "The Surprising Emergence of the Center Clayton Stadnik" would be a good name for a western.) The Gamecocks currently have two guards committed to the 2014 recruiting class, but it's supremely unlikely either Donell Stanley or Malik Young will do anything but redshirt.
However it shakes out, few will relish the news that 80% of an already effective offensive line will remain intact (plus both starting tight ends) more than Mike Davis. Reached for comment, Mike Davis did this.