Who’s gone: Jerell Adams (drafted), Ulric Jones (position change), Connor Redmond (injured/no longer with team)
Who’s back: Jacob August, Kevin Crosby, Hayden Hurst, Kyle Markaway and Matthew Weigel (former redshirt)
Who’s new: Evan Hinson, Robert Tucker III, Rivers Bedenbaugh (position change)
When looking at the somewhat crowded stock of tight ends the Gamecocks possess on their roster, the best way to describe it may be unestablished. There’s some experience here in guys like Kevin Crosby, Jacob August and Hayden Hurst, but there’s also a huge void in the departure and absence of now New York Giant Jerell Adams.
Whether that void can be filled by one individual or the committee is the biggest question facing this unit in 2016.
Much like every other position, the tight end group is littered with “youth” (Hayden Hurst, 23, is still considered a sophomore), with only one upper classman (who happens to be RS Junior Rivers Bedenbaugh, playing his first season at the position), therefore there’s a necessary level of development needed to take place with most of these guys.
Schematically, expect to see the position lined up more so in the slot and in the backfield than the traditional position up front with the offensive line. Offensive Coordinator Kurt Roper is expected to implement formations that have tight ends often in motion and as another backfield option.
Unlike Adams last year, who was often seen streaking down the middle of the field, I think we’ll see the ends stay closer to home as controlled dump-off options or on short slants.
As of now, it’s unsure where the freshmen fit into the scheme, but we do know Hurst, August and Crosby will be the main guys relied upon to serve as a pass catching and blocking options.
Even though he only has one career start, many consider Hurst to be the man in the lead for the starting job. After walking on to the team before the start of last year, ending a stint in the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system, the Jacksonville native made a name for himself with a 47-yard reception against Texas A&M. He finished the year with 8 catches for 106 yards. At 6-5, 250 lbs. he has the size to go along with the dual-sport athleticism.
But, whether it’s Hurst or anyone of the other tight ends out there, there’s still some development needing to take place. Unfortunately, with limited proven skill players, they may be called upon more often than not from the get go. We’ll find out if they’re ready to answer the call.