Welcome to the second edition of the South Carolina football and recruiting mailbag.
Each week, SEC Country reporter Hale McGranahan sorts through a stack of questions submitted by you, the readers. Let’s get started:
Is our current depth chart capable of stopping anyone on defense, based solely on (Will) Muschamp’s scheme changes?
-Leesa Hedrick (Facebook)
You’ve got to think Muschamp is capable of coming up with some ways to mask the deficiencies on this roster. Right? I think so.
As much as we’ve all kicked the secondary, statistically, the Gamecocks were better against the pass last year than they were defending the run. Nationally, they ranked 50th in passing defense and 110th in rushing. There’s not much room to get any lower, so it’s probably safe to assume South Carolina will be better against the run in 2016, even without star linebacker Skai Moore.
With Jonathan Walton, T.J. Holloman, Larenz Bryant and Bryson Allen-Williams, there’s experience returning to linebacker corps, so you’ve got to feel decent about the position.
The defensive line has a first group that can help you win, but I’m not so sure about what’s behind them. I think we’ll see a few freshmen eventually emerge. Keir Thomas, one of the mid-year enrollees, is certainly a candidate. Stephon Taylor, assuming his shoulder is fully recovered from his surgery earlier this spring, could be, too.
Even if you’re a believer in Mushcamp’s track record as a defensive backs coach, you probably don’t feel great about the personnel there. But there are reasons to be optimistic. JaMarcus King, the junior college transfer, has potential, but he’s still unproven in the SEC. Chris Lammons needs to have a rebound season. Chaz Elder, Chris Moody and D.J. Smith are options at safety, but I don’t think we’ve seen a whole lot out of those guys.
Do you think there is a game on the schedule that we could win that would be considered an upset?
-Darrell Dodd (Facebook)
Let’s assume Vanderbilt remains the favorite. South Carolina did open as a 4-point favorite. Now, Vandy’s at -3. Is a linebacker really worth a touchdown? Maybe if it’s Patrick Willis, but probably not. There’s your first shot. Beyond that, assuming Texas A&M comes to Columbia on Oct. 1 as a favorite, that might be your next best opportunity for an upset.
Who do you think could be a game changer at WR?
-Brian Mills (Facebook)
The conversation begins with Deebo Samuel and probably ends with Bryan Edwards. I thought Samuel looked pretty good against Clemson last year. That was definitely something for him to build on, and I think that’s one of the reasons why the coaches are so excited about him.
What about Bryan Edwards, do you think he will be a starter in the Vanderbilt game?
-Joey Miles (Facebook)
Absolutely. He was the starter when spring practice ended and I suspect he’ll stay in the starting lineup for a while.
What do you think about freshman RB AJ Turner?
-Lamar Turner Jr. (Facebook)
His high school highlights are explosive. I think he’s got a chance to be a really good running back in this league. Early on, maybe he’s a change-of-pace guy, particularly if you can get anything out of David Williams. That would be a nice one-two combo, if those two can be productive.”
If you had to pick one player currently committed in the 2017 class who you think could outplay his recruiting ranking once he gets to campus, who would it be?
I’ll start at the bottom with Griffin Gentry, the lowest-ranked guy in the class. He’s a little under-sized as a defensive end, but he’s got good length and some ability to chase down plays from behind. His high school coaches loved his motor. He’s a bright guy, too. I think he’ll be able to pick up the scheme relatively quickly. Even though Gentry has several more experienced guys ahead of him, but he could be a sleeper to avoid a redshirt.
D.J. Wonnum is another one. I really like his upside. I don’t necessarily think we’ll see it this year, maybe not even next year, but a year or two in Jeff Dillman’s weight room could help him transform into one scary-looking dude at defensive end. When he adds some size and strength, Wonnum could be a good player.
Do you think Jake (Bentley) sees something that tells him, ‘I think I can win this job as a freshman?’
I do believe the thought has crossed his mind, even though he would never come out and say it publicly. From the best I can tell, Muschamp has been pretty transparent with all of these quarterbacks. They’re all candidates for the starting job heading into fall camp, and Bentley would know that just as well, if not better than anyone else. And, based on what Bentley told me earlier this spring, Kurt Roper’s plays and concepts are very similar to what he’s learned from his dad (running backs coach Bobby Bentley) over the years.