Aug. 9, 2016
Gamecocksonline.com will take a position-by-position look at the South Carolina football roster leading up to the September 1 season opener at Vanderbilt. Today we will focus on the running backs.
In what has become one of the most closely scrutinized position battles of the fall, the competition remains heated at the running back position. With still a little over three weeks until the season opener, this one could go right down to the wire before offensive coordinator Kurt Roper and running backs coach Bobby Bentley decide how they plan to divvy up the carries this season. Certainly, when playing in a league as physical as the SEC, the coaches know they need to have more than one back capable of carrying the load.
Redshirt junior David Williams served as an apprentice behind Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds over the past three seasons and entered the fall listed atop the depth chart. The 6-1, 220-pounder from Philadelphia has shown flashes over the past two seasons while rushing for 555 yards. Blessed with the physical tools to have success on Saturdays, Williams needs to show the coaches a consistency in his performance each and every day to be the primary featured back this season.
Williams is one of three veteran running backs on the roster. The others are senior Darius Paulk and junior Rod Talley. Both Paulk, a 5-8, 205-pound local product from Columbia’s Richland Northeast High School, and Talley, a 5-10, 205-pounder from Laurens, S.C., have similar stories. They each came to Carolina as a walk-on and sat out a year following a transfer from a smaller school. Paulk first went to North Greenville, while Talley matriculated from Gardner-Webb. Both Paulk and Talley earned letters as special team performers in 2015 and were placed on scholarship, but now are working to make their presence felt as part of the regular running back rotation this fall.
Two players, A.J. Turner and Mon Denson, took redshirt seasons last year as they transitioned from high school ball. Turner, a 5-10, 195-pounder from Clifton, Va., may be one of the more pleasant surprises of the fall preseason camp thus far. He has impressed the coaches with his speed and effort. Like most young running backs who are naturally gifted with the ball in their hands, Turner’s challenge is to improve in pass protection and picking up blitzes. To be an every-down back, he has been on a mission to add weight though extra work in the weight room and by eating extra. Denson, a 5-10, 215-pounder from LaGrange, Ga. has a little more “thickness” to him than does Turner. He considers himself a “power back with speed” and is not afraid to run people over, which could help him become a factor in short yardage situations.
A trio of true freshmen are also in the competition. C.J. Freeman, a 5-11, 200-pounder from Greensboro, N.C., joined the squad in January and went through spring drills. Rico Dowdle is a 5-11, 211-pound newcomer who put together an outstanding prep career in Asheville, N.C. Freshman walk-on Adrian McGee, a 5-11, 185-pounder from Greer, S.C. adds depth.
The final running back spot on the roster belongs to sophomore Ty’Son Williams. Wiliams, a 6-0, 220-pounder from Sumter, S.C., spent his freshman season with the Tar Heels of North Carolina, appearing in six games. The former Crestwood High School standout will sit out this season per NCAA transfer rules.