COLUMBIA, S.C. – For the first time in Bryan McClendon’s tenure as a South Carolina football coach, there’s experienced depth at his position.
The Gamecocks’ third-year wide receiver coach, who was recently promoted to offensive coordinator, is fired up about having four starters back at wide receiver in 2018.
“This is the one time that we’ll actually be able to play with some true veterans, with Bryan Edwards being there, being a three-year starter,” McClendon said. “Deebo [Samuel] coming back, being a three-year starter. Shi [Smith], OrTre [Smith], Chad [Terrell], Chavis [Dawkins] – all those guys played significant time.”
South Carolina’s wide receiver corps isn’t just experienced. It’s also really talented. The group might be one of the best in the SEC, if not the best.
When healthy, Samuel is clearly the top option, but Edwards has proven to be a more than capable option for rising junior quarterback Jake Bentley, finishing as the team’s leading receiver in 2017. Shi and OrTre, both of whom were true freshmen, finished third and fourth, respectively.
- Edwards: 64 catches, 793 yards, 5 touchdowns (13 games)
- Shi Smith: 29 catches, 409 yards, 3 touchdowns (12 games)
- OrTre Smith: 30 catches, 326 yards, 3 touchdowns (13 games)
- Samuel: 15 catches, 250 yards, 3 touchdowns (3 games)
- Randrecous Davis: 7 catches, 55 yards (11 games)
- Terrell: 3 catches, 20 yards (10 games)
- Dawkins: 2 catches, 18 yards (13 games)
All seven are expected to return in 2018.
During last month’s early signing period, the Gamecocks netted three wide receivers for the Class of 2018, which includes 4-star Josh Vann, the top-rated member of the 20-man haul.
“Even the young guys, with the talent level that I feel like we’re bringing in, now we have quality depth where we can constantly kind of roll people and keep playing fast out there,” McClendon said. “It’s exciting, knowing what we have.”
It all, of course, starts with Samuel, who’s caught 86 passes for 1,194 yards and 5 touchdowns over 18 career games. Samuel has battled a litany of injuries throughout his career, so McClendon and the rest of the Gamecock offense knows how to navigate the SEC without him.
South Carolina had to learn the hard way in 2017, after Samuel exited against Kentucky.
“What it did was it forced some guys to grow up quicker,” McClendon said. “In my group, you could see it. Not just my group – I thought sometimes, offensively, a little bit we kind of just waited around and thought ‘Oh, Deebo will get us out of it.’
“When that [injury] happened, now, we couldn’t do that. It made a Bryan Edwards step up. It made Jake have to trust other people. It made Hayden [Hurst] step up. It made OrTre and Shi Smith have to step up and not be freshmen anymore, so to speak. I think it helped us overall with the development of all the other pieces that are around him.
“Obviously, getting him back is huge. Getting the playmaking ability back is huge.”