Editor’s note: During the final few weeks before preseason camp, SEC Country will take a position-by-position look at South Carolina’s 2016 roster. Up next in the position preview series is the offensive line.
The offensive line was a position of constant rotation and changing lineups this spring at South Carolina.
Now it’s getting closer to opening the season at Vanderbilt and needing to hone in on the starting group for the Gamecocks. It is a group that will be anchored by senior tackle Mason Zandi, while sophomore Zack Bailey is coming off a nice freshman season.
Returning from 2015
The 6-foot-9, 308-pound senior made the trip to SEC Media Days earlier in July to represent the Gamecocks, and he should be a key leader this season. He will move over to left tackle this season after starting 10 games at right tackle in 2015.
Bailey made starts at left guard and center last season, moving from reserve duty into the starting lineup because of injuries to multiple players ahead of him on the depth chart. He did so as a true freshman, earning SEC All-Freshman honors.
It was an injury to Knott – among others – that allowed Bailey to get into the starting lineup as a freshman. But now the junior is back after starting nine games last year, bringing 17 career starts to the table.
Helms is eligible after sitting out 2015 as a transfer from Wake Forest, and that is good news for the Gamecocks. He brings versatility on the interior of the line, being projected as the starting right guard on the preseason depth chart. He started in 23 of his 24 games at Wake Forest, playing as a true freshman in 2013.
The junior from Dillon, S.C., is looking to crack the starting lineup for the first time. He can play either guard or tackle.
Camper started one game as a true freshman a season ago because of an injury to Zandi. He will look for more of those this year as he competes with Park to be the starting right tackle.
Young is expected to back up Zandi at left tackle after playing sparingly as a redshirt freshman.
The sophomore is in line for an expanded reserve role this season but will miss the first game of the year after being charged with driving under the influence.
Stanley is one of those players who shuffled in with the first team this spring, impressing coaches per TheState.com, and could be in line for snaps in the fall.
Derouen redshirted last season as a freshman then missed spring ball while rehabbing an injury. He will work to crack the two-deep on the interior of the line.
The new guys
Leota – a 6-4, 315-pound lineman – can play multiple positions on the offensive line. Leota was the nation’s No. 104 offensive tackle per the 247Sports Composite rankings.
The 6-5, 282-pound Putnam was ranked the No. 157 offensive tackle in the country per the 247Sports Composite rankings.
Hutcherson is a 6-4, 273-pound offensive tackle who was regarded by some as a defensive line recruit. He will be on the offensive side of the ball for the Gamecocks.
Cooperwood comes in from the Georgia Military College as the No. 13 junior college offensive tackle in the nation. The 6-7, 359-pound Cooperwood has three years to play two for the Gamecocks after being named an NJCAA All-American last season.
Preseason depth chart
The injury bug bit South Carolina last season, but for it, there is more depth and experience in the players who return to the unit.
With Zandi and Bailey likely anchoring the left side, the Gamecocks have a decent idea of the group that will protect the blindside of either Perry Orth or Brandon McIlwain. In the middle, Knott gives more stability, and the right side has a group of players competing for the final two starting spots.
So for Shawn Elliott, the interim head coach turned offensive line coach, he has an idea of what his group will look like, while knowing the options that could solidify the group.
All ratings and rankings are from the 247Sports composite unless otherwise noted