As we inch ever close to Thursday night's season opening kick-off, a question that's surrounded the South Carolina Gamecocks since the end of the 2014 season remains: Will a viable second option emerge at receiver?
With Damiere Byrd off to the NFL and a flurry of other departures at the pass catching position, including the premature exit of Shaq Roland, South Carolina enters the 2015 season with an influx of relative unknowns at wide receiver other than Pharoh Cooper.
With the amount of attention sure to come Cooper's way on one side of the field, gaps will open for newly anointed starters Deebo Samuel and Carlton Heard, and opportunities will arise for back-ups Terry Googer, Shamier Jeffery and Sean Odom.
The chatter we've heard throughout the offseason indicates that the speedy Deebo is ready to step in as a big play threat, a role occupied in the past by Ace Sanders and current Carolina Panther Damiere Byrd. And at 6'0" and 202 pounds, Samuel possesses a little bit more of the size and strength that eluded Sanders and Byrd.
Samuel's physical stature will allow him to grow into more roles than just a "deep bomb" threat as he gets situated within the offense. Look for him to become more of a possession receiver, similar to what fans and coaches grew accustomed to with Bruce Ellington. If all goes according to plan, Samuel will serve as a respectable compliment to the play-making Cooper from the get-go.
A little more uncertainty surrounds the Gardner-Webb transfer, Carlton Heard. While he's listed as the starter for Thursday night, that could change by week two. The 6'0", 182 pound redshirt senior, whose lone moment of fame came with a fourth quarter blocked punt against Florida last year, is still battling it out with redshirt freshman Terry Googer.
The veteran Heard doesn't have near the athletic prowess as the heavily recruited Googer, who is currently listed at 6'4" and 226 pounds. With that kind of height and speed, Googer has the ability to dominate cornerbacks off the line and box them out in tight coverage, while also serving as a tight-end sized target for Connor Mitch. It'll be interesting to see how long the coaching staff gives Heard to prove he belongs in the starting lineup with the big bodied Googer lurking right behind. Who knows, it may just be a matter of mastering the play book that's holding Googer back at this point.
As for the other guys, I think it's safe to say the time is now for redshirt senior Shamier Jeffery, whose career stat line is as follows: eight catches, 41 yards. While I'm sure his veteran status aided some of the younger receivers on the practice field this offseason, we could really use some game time production from a guy that's had fans like myself waiting to see shine since the departure of his big brother, Alshon. Word has also been tossed around that redshirt senior Shon Carson could see some time catching balls at the slot position as coaches try to utilize him as something more than just a backup running back.
Even as roles remain unfilled, the Gamecocks offense isn't desperate for another receiver to emerge immediately. But the sooner the better. The lack of solidified depth should instill some urgency in their minds to make plays this Thursday night and prove they belong in the receiving rotation.