On Sunday, the South Carolina football team got their first day off in over two weeks since opening fall camp earlier this month. Now less than two weeks away from the season opener, the coaching staff will soon have to answer some difficult questions. It won't be long - perhaps even as early as this week - that the program will release its depth chart for the September 3rd match-up with East Carolina in Charlotte. There are several questions that will need to be answered between now and the release of the depth chart.
1. Who's punting?
One of the biggest question marks entering fall camp centered around kicking. Jay Wooten has looked like a guy that was once a scholarship kicker while at North Carolina. Wooten has locked up the kicking duties and earned a scholarship in the process. The punting job remains up in the air.
The leading candidates for the punting job is Irmo's senior punter Joey Scribner-Howard and Shelby, N.C. redshirt freshman Patrick Fish. Orangeburg's Mike Williamson and Rock Hill's Landon Ard have also taken snaps, but the job appears to be between Scribner-Howard and Fish.
There is very little doubt that Scribner-Howard has the better leg. When he gets into the ball and gets it to turn over, he can easily kick the ball 40+ yards with enough hang time to allow the coverage to get down there.
The problem with Scribner-Howard - and Fish for that matter - is consistency. One punt they both look like Ray Guy candidates, the next kick is off the side of the foot and barely makes it 20 yards.
Special teams coach John Butler will have a decision to make, but it shouldn't be that hard. I fully expect Scribner-Howard to be the punter.
2. Free safety concerns
When I saw Brison Williams walk off the field holding his arm after being juked by Shon Carson and breaking his fall with his arm in 11-on-11's earlier in the fall, I had a bad gut feeling. My feelings were confirmed the following day when head coach Steve Spurrier announced that Williams was out for the season with a broken arm.
The timeline for Williams has changed since and he could potentially be back around October, depending on how rehab goes. That will lead to a completely different question then on whether to play Williams or go ahead and redshirt him.
A lot of that will depend on what happens with the free safety position between now and then. Williams was pushing for the starting position over Jimmy Legree, but Legree's job is safe for now. Assistant head coach Ellis Johnson said that Sharrod Golightly will be a potential candidate but he still has a lot of work to do, as do the other guys.
"We've got to develop some depth in that area, and right now it's a long way off," Johnson said following Saturday's scrimmage.
Time is running out and that will be a huge point of focus over the next few weeks for Johnson.
3. Who starts beside Robertson?
The Gamecock defense got some good news this week when defensive tackle Travian Robertson returned to practice after having some leg trouble. With Robertson officially back and looking near 100%, the question turns to the other tackle spot.
Right now Aldrick Fordham is probably that guy. Defensive line coach Brad Lawing has been high on Fordham's work ethic and knowledge of the game. Lawing has also been impressed with Byron Jerideau, Kelcy Quarles, and then you have the 6-8, 350-pound behemoth Corey Robinson that could find his way onto the field as a run stopper.
Last week Quarles began working some at defensive end, likely backing up Devin Taylor. That will likely limit Quarles on the inside, but the battle between Fordham and Jerideau will heat up as Lawing decides who to start.
4. Does Clowney start?
How often does a redshirt senior who led your team in sacks the previous year ends up battling for his position with a true freshman?
You don't see it happen often.
You don't see a Jadeveon Clowney often, either.
Everyone knew the nation's number one prospect was going to be a fan favorite from day one. Not one Carolina player has been watched more than Clowney in the stands. What we didn't know was what was going to be said on the field.
Spurrier nearly proclaimed Clowney a starter following Saturday's scrimmage.
"He's going to play a lot - he may even start," Spurrier said. "We're still a couple of weeks away, but Jadeveon's doing well."
Clowney will definitely be on the field early and often against the Pirates, but he insists it really doesn't matter if it's starting or coming off the bench.
"It's not a goal for me," Clowney said. "If I (start) I'm going to play good. If I don't start I'm still going to get in there and hopefully get some reps. I told Coach Lawing it's not a big deal to me starting."
Whether it's a big deal to Clowney or not, sooner or later he's going to start. My bet is on sooner.
5. Who backs up Lattimore?
Running back coach Jay Graham doesn't have to question who's going to start against East Carolina. That goes to the returning Freshman of the Year and potential Heisman candidate Marcus Lattimore. The question is who will back up Lattimore.
Redshirt junior Kenny Miles is entering his fourth year in the program. After redshirting his first year, Miles came in as a freshman and led the team in rushing in 2009. He was dubbed the starter entering last fall, but lost the starting job to Lattimore. Miles did start the Vanderbilt game with Lattimore out with an injury, but was ineffective. He closed the season out with a great performance in the Chick-fil-A Bowl, rushing for 70 yards on 10 carries.
With that effort and the graduation of Brian Maddox, Miles was a lock for the back-up role in 2011.
Carson has come to campus and has quickly made a bid for the back-up role. With Carson possibly only being a three-year player before entering the MLB draft, redshirting him doesn't make much sense. The best bet would be to redshirt Brandon Wilds and let Carson and Miles battle it out for second with Eric Baker being fourth on the depth chart.
I believe it's a battle that will eventually be won by Carson, perhaps as early as week three.
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