Editor’s note: SEC Country takes a look back at what was said by South Carolina coach Will Muschamp, his two coordinators and a few of their players during the first week of preseason camp.
COLUMBIA, S.C. — Quarterback continues to be South Carolina’s top storyline, and for good reason. After six days of practice, many of the same questions remain. From this angle, not a whole lot has changed. Senior Perry Orth received first-team snaps during the tempo period in Saturday morning’s practice, but he did tell reporters on Wednesday that he and freshman Brandon McIlwain were splitting first-team reps.
On Wednesday, offensive coordinator Kurt Roper was asked if he prefers one or the other. A veteran who’s been there before? Or a freshman with less experience, but with more talent and a better skill-set?
It’s all about production.
Roper was also asked about some of the metrics that help determine what’s productive and what isn’t.
“Really, for us, what we want to be good at is we want to be good at taking care of the ball,” he said. “And then the critical areas of third-down, red zone, penalties and explosive plays, we gauge those.
“If we’re doing a good job in those areas, then we feel like we have a chance to play a successful game, so we’re always going to look at those critical areas and see if we’re improving. It’s always a week-to-week balance.”
As is the case for any football team, the quarterback position plays a critical part. In Monday’s kickoff press conference, Muschamp said that position won’t be narrowed down until the first scrimmage, which is set for this Saturday.
“I think after that, you can narrow it down to two guys and kind of go from there,” he said, “And, obviously, try to get the other guy some reps.”
Deebo Samuel is expected to be a weapon for whoever lines up behind center.
“(The coaches) expect me to be the guy and they also expect me to be a leader at receiver, because I’m the one who’s played more than anyone in the receiver group right now,” he said.
The redshirt sophomore won’t be the only one. With his move from quarterback to wide receiver, Lorenzo Nunez has a shot to emerge alongside Samuel. After two days at the position, Samuel said Nunez was “coming along” with the transition.
“First, he’s got to work on coming off the ball versus press-man,” Samuel said.
Defense has work to do, but has bought in
Plenty of questions still remain for defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson. JaMarcus King, the 4-star transfer cornerback, remained one of the most talked-about players on the defensive side of the ball.
On Friday, during his first camp availability, Robinson was asked about the second-highest rated defensive player in the Gamecocks 2016 signing class.
“Very talented young man, got great length to him,” Robinson said. “He does some very nice things on the line of scrimmage, but he’s got a long way to go as well … it’s a lot different than playing at the junior college level, you’re playing at the SEC level, so it’s some things he’s got to learn.
“He’s going against different types of players. We’ve got some really talented receivers on the outside, so he’s doing a really good job of acclimating to the things that we’re teaching. Again, we’ve got a really long way to go. We’re just worried about us and every day improving, focusing on that.”
There’s been a concerted effort to be more physical in practice. Even through spring practice and summer workouts, the returning players noticed a significant change from the previous regime.
“In general, over the summer, it was definitely demanding,” said senior defensive tackle Kelsey Griffin.
“It was not something we were used to. It’s just different. Like you’ve heard before, we embraced the change. We’ve embraced the new coaching staff. We’ve embraced the way we practice and lift and it means something to us. It’s going to show when the season comes around.”
Griffin will play an important part in setting the tone for what Robinson believes is the most critical aspect of life in the SEC.
“The SEC is a line-of-scrimmage league, regardless of some teams are spread and some teams are fast-tempo, but at the end of the day, you’ve got to run the ball and you’ve got to stop the run,” Robinson said. “We’re going to do those things for our guys, to make sure we’re prepared for that … we’re going to be a physical outfit, offensively and defensively.
“That’s what we’re going to hang our hat on. Coach (Muschamp) talks about it all the time, being a blue-collar football team. That’s what that means.”
You can follow Hale McGranahan on Twitter: @Hale_AJC