South Carolina starts training camp with plenty to prove
COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) — South Carolina coach Will Muschamp saw plenty of smiling faces and enthusiastic talk at his team’s first meeting of preseason camps.
“They won’t be chipper too long,” he said Thursday.
Muschamp and the Gamecocks have plenty of questions to answer, some of them which they’ve been dealing throughout the coach’s three-year tenure.
Muschamp has long sought an improved run game and a stronger showing at stopping the run. South Carolina was 12th in rushing offense in the Southeastern Conference a year ago and 13th against the run.
And there were too many up-and-down performances that plagued South Carolina. It scored 28 or more points in five straight games down the stretch, including 35 in a loss to national champion Clemson. But the Gamecocks were shutout their final six quarters to leave a sour taste is just about everyone’s mouth.
“The consistency to me is the biggest issue that we have,” Muschamp said.
Muschamp believes he’s got more competitive depth throughout the roster to make some strides during training camp. That, he said, includes the offensive line and running back positions where Muschamp is seeking steady replacements for left tackle Dennis Daley and left guard Zack Bailey.
“I think the bond is there so it won’t take long for us to show what we’ve got,” Sindarius Hutcherson, who is moving from right guard to left tackle this season.
Running back may be the spot where the most offseason changes were made.
Muschamp brought in former Georgia running back Thomas Brown as assistant coach for that position. The Gamecocks also picked up a graduate transfer in former Clemson backup tailback Tavien Feaster, a five-star prospect from Spartanburg who was part of two national championship teams with the Tigers.
Feaster is not expected in camp until next week.
Ready to go now is oft-injured senior tailback Rico Dowdle, a dynamic runner who missed five games as a sophomore with a broken leg and two games with ankle injury last season.
Dowdle, the team’s top rusher last season with 654 yards, also missed all spring workouts with a groin injury.
Still, he said he’s healthy and ready to finish strongly.
“I don’t think I’ve gotten more than half of what I wanted out of my college experience,” he said. “I’m looking forward to trying to achieve that.”
Injuries also cost South Carolina on the defensive side of things last year. D.J. Wonnum, the Gamecocks’ top pass rusher in 2017, was slowed by an ankle injury that kept him from all but five games a year ago.
A full-strength Wonnum, combined with sacks leader in defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw, should give the Gamecocks a stronger ability to stop opponents’ run games.
“We know that we can put it all together in training camp and I’m expecting a big year out of us,” he said.
Linebacker T.J. Brunson, who missed the spring with injuries, saw the rest of his group step up during his absence and focus on stopping the run. Brunson saw a faster, smarter set of linebackers who zeroed-in on what it takes to slow down running backs.
“It’s something we want to get right this season,” Brunson said.
Muschamp’s offense is led by fourth-year starter Jake Bentley, who showed flashes of NFL ability (he threw for five touchdowns and 510 yards at Clemson last year) and moments where he zoned out.
Bentley finished with 14 interceptions, the only one among the top-10 SEC quarterbacks in pass efficiency to surpass double digits.
“I know that I have to be more consistent,” Bentley said. “I’m ready to do that.”