Similar to wide receiver, the Gamecocks experienced a great deal of turnover at offensive line at the end of 2015. Mike Matulis? Gone. Right guard Will Sport? Gone as well. Stabilizing force Brandon Shell? Gone, along with his 48 career starts. Even with that experience at their disposal, some younger players were forced into action due to injury. Potential left guard Cody Waldrop suffered a season-ending injury while practicing for the Kentucky game. Returning center Alan Knott missed a pair of games, meaning that Zack Bailey entered the fray there. Mason Zandi’s injury late in the season held him out for the final two games, pressing Blake Camper into duty.
This year hopes to be a little more stable and injury free for the line with established starters at left tackle, guard and center, but with some questions remaining at left guard (with a player that’s only started two games there) and at right guard (with a redshirt junior that has never started a single game at the spot). There’s added pressure with freshman Brandon McIlwain facing the possibility of starting and a need for the running game to make major strides from last year.
The Gamecocks will benefit from having Mason Zandi back in 2016. After primarily being a special teams contributor in 2014, he anchored himself at starting right tackle last year, starting all but two games due to an ankle injury. This year, he’ll have big shoes to fill as he takes over for Shell at left tackle. D.J. Park enters fall with zero career starts after being slotted as Matulis’s backup at RG, but is slotted as the starting right tackle. Here’s where things get tricky depth-wise. Malik Young, a redshirt sophomore, has rarely seen time on the field. Camper, who we mentioned earlier, at least has a start to his credit, so I wouldn’t be shocked to see him split snaps with Young at left tackle if Zandi is hurt or rotate with Park at right.
The Gamecocks had Mike Matulis and Will Sport holding it down on either side of Alan Knott, respectively, but they’re gone, along with Waldrop (who decided to forgo his remaining eligibility after his injury). Zack Bailey, who started twice at LG toward the end of last year, will now be saddled with the role full-time. Fortunately, the projected starter at right guard has plenty of experience: Cory Helms. The Wake Forest transfer started all but one game at Winston-Salem (16 at center, seven at left guard) and will be eligible to play in 2016 as a redshirt junior. He’ll be called into action should Alan Knott not be able to go at center. Depth might come up as an issue here too as Christian Pellage and Donell Stanley have no starts, although Stanley saw a little time there last year. Trey Derouen, the redshirt freshman, is a big question mark as he didn’t participate in spring. We’ll see how he comes along during fall camp and beyond.
It seems as if Alan Knott has been around forever. While he’s a redshirt junior, to me he is the stabilizing force of this line simply because of the experience he brings to the table. He has struggled with staying healthy as various points during his career, but has been an anchor in the middle over the past two seasons. Unlike last year, he’ll have a proven backup (Helms) behind him if he gets banged up.
While things could be a little better for the Gamecocks at OL, things could be much worse as the team does have a trio of veterans in Zandi, Knott and Helms to make the transition easier for the young guys. Again, with the potential of a freshman quarterback starting, along with a need to get the running game going in a big way, this unit will need to get things together quickly.