As South Carolina released its first depth chart Monday and hit the practice field Tuesday for its first spring practice, a closer gander at the depth chart raised an eyebrow, maybe two. Sitting atop the list on offense was true freshman wide receiver Bryan Edwards.
If that small shock wasn’t enough, along with Edwards were two more freshmen (Christian Owens and Jalen Christian – that’s not going to get confusing), two sophomores (Deebo Samuel and Terry Googer) and one lone upperclassman (Matrick Belton).
The six receivers on the South Carolina depth chart combined for 28 receptions last season, 356 yards and one touchdown. Thirty four players, by themselves last season, topped 28 catches in the SEC.
Owens tops the list at 6-foot-5, five receivers are 6-foot or taller and the unit averages just a shade under 6-foot-2. At least they’re tall, because experience will sure be lacking.
How did the Gamecocks receiving corps get so whittled down, especially since the history at the position has been chock full of success stories like Pharoh Cooper, Bruce Ellington and Alshon Jeffery?
Did former coach Steve Spurrier’s recruiting efforts set this 2016 team up to fail, particularly at the receiver position?
“At receiver, Deebo Samuel and Matrick Belton are really the only two guys that have played a lot,” new coach Will Muschamp said Monday at his opening spring press conference. “I think Terry Googer has played a little bit.
“But you’ll see that Bryan Edwards is listed as a first team receiver going into our first practice. I’m very pleased with his offseason; he still is a little slow as far as overuse is concerned with his knee, but he’s really come out of it well. He’s a young man who’s certainly deserving of the opportunity he’s created for himself.”
Muschamp went position-by-position along the offense speaking on the lack of depth at certain areas … two stood out.
“But obviously, the huge question mark for us is at quarterback and receiver and having some guys step forward for us there,” Muschamp said.
Edwards, who still needs to recover from an injury from his final season of high school football, was a four-star, in-state recruit and the No. 45 wide receiver in the country, according to 247Sports. That means the kid on top of South Carolina’s depth chart – the best wide receiver currently with the Gamecocks – was behind 44 graduating, high school seniors.
To put that into a little more perspective, LSU, Ole Miss and Auburn each landed three receivers that were ranked better (according to 247Sports) than Edwards as recruits and none of them will likely land atop their respective depth charts, especially an early release like South Carolina’s.
So … South Carolina has some building to do. No better time – after all the spring and fall reps have been taken – than the early part of the 2016 schedule.
The Gamecocks’ first four games next season come against Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, East Carolina and Kentucky. Outside of the Wildcats (28th nationally last season against the pass), South Carolina’s other three opponents had semi-soft pass defenses (41st, 57th and 67th, respectively). That could be the perfect time to air it out and see what happens.
Muschamp threatened the returning receivers, saying they had 15 practices this spring to show something or let the freshman take over. Maybe the Gamecocks should just push the freshmen out of the nest and see who flies (yes, I know Gamecocks aren’t birds of flight – but bonus points for the stab at the perfect analogy, right?).
Muschamp said WRs have been told they have 15 practices to prove themselves. If not, incoming Fr. will get the chance in fall.
— Scott Hood (@ScottHood63) March 14, 2016
With the current state of the receiving corps, doesn’t South Carolina have to spend considerable effort over the next recruiting cycle or two bolstering its pass-catchers? If that’s the case, wouldn’t it be better to build a base now, starting with Edwards and the rest of the underclassmen and treat the 2016 season as a building block?
If Edwards emerges, and potentially another underclassmen does as well, South Carolina’s receiving corps could turn from wasteland to bountiful in no time. But that’s Muschamp’s cross to bear, and he has to start winning more of the recruiting battles for receivers.
South Carolina only nabbed one of the nation’s top 50 receivers in this past recruiting class. Six other SEC schools got at least two and that has to be where the bar is set for the Gamecocks in 2017.