Spring wrap-up: Wide receiver
Despite sitting out the spring after having offseason foot surgery, there's no doubt that the record-setting McKinley will be South Carolina's no. 1 wide receiver in the fall. McKinley knows the offense, has wonderful hands, and is dynamic in the open field.
The All-SEC performer led the conference last season with a school-record 77 receptions for a team-leading 968 yards. With an injury-free campaign this year, McKinley could shatter the school receiving record book. McKinley's 153 career catches tie him for fourth in school history and his 2,139 yards place him sixth in school history. Both of those numbers make McKinley the SEC active returning leader in those categories. The Mableton, Ga. native has played in all 37 games over the last three seasons and has made the most starts on the team with 31.
McKinley will be flanked by sophomore Dion Lecorn who came on strong at the end of last season, grabbing 16 passes for 215 yards over the last three games. Lecorn is not your average-sized receiver at 220 pounds and provides a load to bring down for would-be tacklers in the secondary. The Ocala, Fla. native showed a quick first step late last season as well and was nearly uncoverable on shorter routes with one-on-one coverage.
With McKinley still drawing much of the defense's attention in the passing game this season, Lecorn should still find himself matched up in one-on-one "bump" coverages often, especially in blitz situations. Lecorn built on his 27-catch freshman season with a solid spring, playing a step faster as well as displaying an ability to go up and catch the football at its highest point. The sure-handed Lecorn will provide a very valuable threat in the passing game for seasons to come.
Someone who may have something to say about Lecorn starting opposite McKinley is junior speedster Moe Brown. Brown has always had the tools, but struggled with confidence early on in his career. Brown looked like a completely different player this spring, running crisp routes, getting open often, and catching everything thrown his way. Brown also showed a new-found ability to adjust to the ball in the air and make the big play, something he struggled with earlier in his career.
The Westside High School product now knows the offense extremely well and has even impressed his quarterbacks with his ability to quickly read the defense and adjust his route accordingly. While Brown will have to show that his big-time spring performance can transfer to gamedays, he could give the Gamecocks the downfield threat they haven't had since Troy Williamson wore the Garnet and Black. Brown did not play much in the spring game due to a twisted ankle he suffered in the first quarter, but according to USC head coach Steve Spurrier the injury is not serious.
Another receiver who is poised for a coming out party on the gridiron is senior Larry Freeman. Freeman transferred to USC last January from Pearl River Community College to help try and fill the void left by NFL-bound receiver Sidney Rice, but he struggled with the offense and consistency catching the football. Freeman looked like a new player this spring, catching everything thrown his way as well as getting open fairly often. The big-bodied receiver is also an exceptional downfield blocker and will play a lot of minutes if he can continue his solid play. Freeman, like many JUCO transfers, could really come into his own in his second year in the program.
Other than McKinley, junior Freddie Brown is the Gamecocks most experienced returning receiver. Brown has been a consistent receiver over his Gamecock career, catching 31 passes. The former Byrnes standout excels at finding open spots in the zone and at running a crisp slant route, but does struggle at times getting off the press. Brown also showed a little more playmaking ability than in the past this spring. While the 6'3", 209-pounder will never be a burner, there is a place in the offense for him and he will continue to be a valuable complementary receiver this fall.
Behind those receivers are a bevy of young, but talented players. Former Palmetto, Fla. standout Joe Hills has the potential to be an incredible playmaker in the USC offense, but did not have the huge spring many expected him to. The 6'4", 202-pounder caught the ball consistently and has a get-up-the-field mentality. Hills also excels in dragging defenders the extra yard. Hills needs to consistently show the ability to go up and get the football over defenders, but unlike in years past South Carolina has the depth to allow him to develop at his own pace. Hills will need to learn the offense better in the offseason, but will still play some snaps next season.
Another tall, lanky receiver who has the potential to be great is Independence High School product Jason Barnes. Barnes impressed early last fall, but suffered a serious ankle injury in week three and ended up receiving a medical hardship. Barnes came on strong at the end of spring camp, before having to miss the latter part due to a sprained ankle. Barnes showed the ability to catch the ball in traffic and go up over defenders late in practice, and with a solid summer conditioning program in the weight room he could push for playing time this season.
Redshirt freshman Matt Clements also had an impressive spring, showing off his speed and ability to catch the ball over the middle in traffic. Clements was a favorite target of quarterback Chris Smelley in the Garnet and Black game, catching five passes for 68 yards. While overlooked by many due to Barnes and Hills, Clements will likely earn playing time this season and has the potential to push those in front of him. According to Spurrier, Clements needs to continue to improve his route-running, but that is something that will come with time.
Rounding out the scholarship receivers is freshman early enrollee C.C. Whitlock. Whitlock is a natural talent at receiver who is incredible with the ball in his hands in the open field. The Chester High School graduate still has a long ways to go as far as his knowledge of the offense, but his upside is undeniable. While Whitlock has shown flashes at receiver, there is still the chance he could end up on the defensive side of the ball due to his natural ball-skills and hips. It remains to be seen if Whitlock will find his way into the rotation this year or will end up redshirting.
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