South Carolina begins its preseason practice July 31, more than a month ahead of the 2017 opener against North Carolina State.
Below are five players set to take the next step for the Gamecocks in 2017.
Brunson spent most of his first season at South Carolina as a special teams player. Now, the 6-foot-1, 228-pound sophomore from Columbia is set to run the Gamecocks defense from the starting middle linebacker spot. Keeping Brunson healthy is near the top of Will Muschamp’s preseason to-do list. He’s one of only three returning scholarship linebackers.
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The sample size was small, but Davis (5-foot-11, 199) looked like he was ready to take over as South Carolina’s No. 3 wide receiver. Davis caught 3 passes for 45 yards over two games before his freshman season was cut short by a hamstring injury. Though injuries forced him to miss most of spring practice, if he stays healthy during preseason camp, look for Davis to have a significant role.
Fenton, who’s in the conversation for fastest man on the team, is listed as a starting cornerback on South Carolina’s official preseason depth chart, but he’s also spent time as the nickel back. The 5-11, 183-pound junior has 40 tackles, 5 pass breakups and an interception in 22 career games (seven starts). As a freshman, Fenton returned a 96-yard kickoff for a touchdown, so he adds value as a special teamer.
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The senior end is one of several returning defensive linemen who could be included on our list, but Sawyer was one of the three seniors called out by Muschamp earlier this month at SEC Media Days. The coach said Sawyer, Ulric Jones and Taylor Stallworth have to play well if the Gamecocks defense is going “take the next step.” Sawyer (6-3, 265) has been productive during his two seasons at South Carolina, totaling 42 tackles and 3.5 sacks over 24 games (four starts).
Heading into the 2016 opener, Stanley (6-4, 317) looked to have a firm grip on the starting job at right guard, but an injury on the first series against Vanderbilt quickly put an end to that. Stanley missed the rest of the season with a high-ankle sprain, but he’s back and ready to win another interior spot along the Gamecocks offensive line. The team’s official depth chart lists him as the first-team left guard.
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