Aug. 11, 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 wide receivers.
Wide receivers coach Bryan McClendon will have his work cut out for him as he looks to replace the Gamecocks’ most valuable player from 2016 in two-time first-team all-conference performer Pharoh Cooper. Playing just three seasons, Cooper finished his career with the Garnet & Black ranked eighth on the school’s all-time receiving list with 2,163 yards. The Havelock, N.C. product was a fourth round pick in the NFL Draft by the Los Angeles Rams. Meanwhile, the returning cast of wide receivers has combined for just 28 catches and 356 yards.
Just how many will see regular action remains to be seen.
“In an SEC game, we typically would like to have six or seven (wide receivers) that are capable of playing,” said offensive coordinator Kurt Roper. “But the ones that are ready, the best ones are the ones that we’re going to play. You definitely want to develop a relationship with those guys with the quarterback. I’ve been in years where you rotated guys and been in years where three guys played.”
The man counted on to be next in a line of outstanding Carolina wide receivers that includes Sidney Rice, Kenny McKinley, Alshon Jeffery and Bruce Ellington is redshirt sophomore Deebo Samuel. Samuel, a 6-0, 205-pounder from Inman, S.C., was hampered by a hamstring injury for much of the 2015 season, but showed his talent by hauling in five passes for 104 yards in the season finale against Clemson. He is regarded as the Gamecocks’ big play threat this season and the coaches will need to find a way to get him the ball on a consistent basis.
The only other wideouts who have caught a pass in a game are walk-on senior Matrick Belton and redshirt sophomore Terry Googer. Belton, a 6-3, 215-pounder from Columbia’s Keenan High School who began his career at Hampton University, started five games last season, catching 11 passes, while Googer, a 6-4, 220-pounder from Atlanta, caught five passes while making a pair of starts.
Jamari Smith moved back to the offensive side of the ball in the spring and seemed to find a home in the slot. Now donning number 14, the 5-10, 210-pound redshirt junior from Jacksonville, Fla., has shown the ability to be a playmaker with the ball in his hands.
Opportunity certainly exists for a young player to step up and receive immediate playing time at the wide receiver position. Four squadmen return in scholarship players Christian Owens and Jerad Washington, along with walk-ons Javon Charleston and Devin Dingle. Washington, a 5-8, 175-pound speedster from Jacksonville continues to work his way back after breaking his leg last fall, while Charleston, a 6-0, 195-pound redshirt freshman from Gurnee, Ill., was impressive in the spring, earning a spot on the two-deep roster entering the fall.
A slew of true freshman will have an opportunity to make an immediate impact. Bryan Edwards got the early jump on the group by graduating early and going through spring ball. The 6-3, 210-pounder from Conway, S.C., was listed atop the depth chart entering the fall at one of the wideout positions and the coaches expect him to be a big factor this season. Other scholarship candidates who are trying to separate themselves during the fall preseason camp include Korey Banks, Randrecous Davis, Chavis Dawkins and Kiel Pollard, while Montray Feaster, Garrett Frederick and Shemar Glenn are walk-ons who add depth. Junior T.J. Smith will not be eligible this season following a transfer from Concord.
“The receivers that we brought in all can make plays in space, they all catch the ball well and move well,” said senior quarterback Perry Orth. “That shows a really good job on our coaching staff to bring those guys in.”