COLUMBIA, S.C. — When the South Carolina offense was operating at peak performance in 2016, it was usually with a pair of tight ends on the field.
Hayden Hurst and K.C. Crosby were the primary weapons, working alongside wide receivers Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards.
Hurst, a more traditional tight end who can attach to the line and flex out like a wide receiver, was second on the team last season with 48 catches for 616 yards. Crosby played more of an H-back role, finishing tied for first among all Gamecocks with 4 touchdown catches, to go along with his 23 receptions for 217 yards, both of which were fourth-best.
The two juniors are likely to play significant roles in the Gamecocks offense this season. However, the influx of young wide receivers potentially could cut into the number of multiple tight end sets South Carolina utilizes in 2017.
“I think any dangerous offense has speed on the field. Any way to maximize that, I think that’s the way you do that,” co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Bryan McClendon said. “Now, we’ve got tight ends that can do that as well, so that’s the biggest thing — just trying to find it in the game plan, where we’re going to do what and go from there.”
Team speed was among the chief concerns coach Will Muschamp wanted to address last offseason and freshman wide receiver Shi Smith has that in spades. The Union County (S.C.) High School product landed title of fastest man on the team earlier this summer. Apparently, he’s also lived up to the hype during the first week or so of preseason camp.
Suffice to say Smith will be involved. As will freshman OrTre Smith, another freshman poised for early playing time. Plus, the Gamecocks return several veteran wide receivers, including redshirt junior Terry Googer, sophomore Chavis Dawkins and redshirt freshman Randrecous Davis.
The running back trio of sophomore Rico Dowdle and redshirt sophomores Ty’Son Williams and A.J. Turner provides even more flexibility.
More options at other positions means the Gamecocks could have a greater variety of formations and personnel groupings in 2017. Having to sort through all of those potential playmakers is a good problem to have if you’re McClendon and Kurt Roper, South Carolina’s offensive play caller.
“You’ve got to do a good job of game-planning and knowing exactly where you want guys,” McClendon said, “What matchups you might want to take advantage of. So a lot of it, going into each week, is just predicated on where the game plan takes you.”
He added, “That’s what we did last year. We’re going to do the same thing this year. As far as now we’ve got a couple of new pieces, so now we’ve just got evaluate them and make sure we’re putting that stuff on the field, because that ultimately gives us the best chance to win the game.”