1. Stephen Garcia completed a full session of spring training, summer drills, and fall camp for the first time in his career as a quarterback for South Carolina. Garcia came in with as much hype as any quarterback recruit in recent memory. We all know by now the troubles that have plagued Garcia. It appears as though new quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus has established a strong relationship with Garcia and has become an influential mentor for the immensely talented redshirt sophomore gunslinger. Garcia showed his lack of experience consistently last year and at some of the most inopportune times. However, he did have moments where he showed tremendous potential. If Garcia can put together a solid game against the Wolfpack on Thursday night and avoid the costly turnovers that plagued him all last year, then he has a chance to gain some much needed confidence. A confident Garcia, one who has finally had an opportunity to practice and develop relationships with his teammates could make a lot of noise this year in the SEC. Garcia has the talent to be one of the top 3 or 4 signal callers in the SEC this year. If he finally begins to show that potential in his play on the field, then the Gamecock offense could be surprisingly good.
2. The offensive line for the Gamecocks over the last few seasons has just been atrocious, in terms of performance and coaching. In an attempt to fix one of the major reasons for his offense not being able to perform as many would have expected it to so far, Coach Spurrier sent John Hunt packing and brought in a young and rising star in the coaching profession in Eric Wolford. Coach Wolford from day one has instilled a level of competition, an expectation of toughness, and a standard of perfection that has not been present for quite some time.
Now, does this mean the Gamecock OL is going to transform into an all SEC OL overnight? No! However, an expectation that the Gamecock OL will be at least moderately better is certainly a reasonable assumption. If the Gamecock OL has indeed learned how to play with a nasty streak and attitude that they will win at the point of attack on every play, then they will be the horse this gamecock offense rides on their journey from being a bottom tier offense to an offense that could find itself in the top third of the SEC at year's end.
3. The running game features 4, potentially 5 backs, this year that have not seen a lot of action in a Gamecock uniform thus far in their careers. In most circumstances, limited experience would relegate this unit to question mark status instead of a unit that could be a surprise group in the SEC this year. This year's group of running backs brings a mix of talent and depth that the Gamecock backfield hasn't possessed in a long time. Brian Maddox is poised in his junior year to log the first significant minutes of his career. Maddox is a hardnosed north south type of runner who will wear defenses down over the course of a game.
Joining Maddox in the bruising back category is redshirt freshman Kenny Miles. Miles is not only an extremely strong and powerful back, but he possesses more than adequate speed and can take it to the house if you miss a tackle or give him a crease. Miles might be the best all around back on the Gamecock's roster.
The back that all of Gamecock nation is anxious to see is Jarvis Giles. Giles is the game breaking, Sports Center highlight reel back that SC hasn't had in a long time. Giles will see plenty of playing time this year, and will be a tool in Coach Spurrier's arsenal that will give opposing defenses nightmares. Giles has All-SEC ability and will get his chance to shine.
Bryce Sherman is another RB/slot WR that will get the opportunity to be a change of pace back for the Gamecocks. At 5'6" tall, Sherman is a Trindon Holliday type back that can get lost behind an OL and be on his way to the end zone before defenses even realize it. Sherman possesses blazing speed and a high degree of elusiveness. At his size Sherman is surprisingly tough and physical and does not shy away from contact.
The wildcard player at RB this year is Eric Baker. Baker is the leading returning rusher on the team. Baker has been sidelined most of fall practice as he recovered from hernia surgery. Baker has all the tools to be a big-time contributor for the Gamecocks. The big question is with the emergence of the other backs will the coaching staff redshirt Baker this year. One thing is for sure, the running back position for the Gamecocks is young, talented, and hungry. I predict that they will in fact be a MAJOR surprise for this Gamecock team.
4. The skill position (QB, WR, and RB) talent for the Gamecocks has been an area where they haven't been able to get all three positions functioning at a high level at the same time. This year the Gamecocks are poised for the first time under Coach Spurrier to have this happen. I have already discussed the great potential of both the QB and RB positions for the Gamecocks, and as a result have added them as 2 of my five reasons to be optimistic about the Gamecock's chances this fall.
The other position that looks as if it may finally have a stable of athletes ready to step up and contribute is the WR position. Moe Brown is the elder statesman of the group and has struggled in the past to translate his steady practice field performances to the field of play. As a senior Brown should be more prepared than ever to contribute on game day. He has the talent, he just needs to produce.
Jason Barnes is another immensely talented WR. Barnes has the talent to take over a game, but unfortunately he has also shown the ability to completely disappear at times. Dion Lecorn looks to again return to the WR rotation when he fully heals from a broken leg sustained on the final play of the spring game. Lecorn burst onto the scene as a freshman, because of his ability to make big plays when he needed to. The Gamecocks also have 2 freshman and one redshirt freshman that are pushing for significant playing time.
Tori Gurley, a 6'5" 230lb is a WR package the Gamecocks haven't had since Sidney Rice. Gurley's athleticism and physical makeup make him a very dangerous weapon in the gamecock's offense. The scary part is that Gurley is only a redshirt freshman, and when he learns the playbook to the point that he can just go and play and let it all hang out, he could be big time.
Speaking of big time, Alshon Jeffery has burst onto the scene this fall as many predicted he would. The Blue Chip prospect that chose the Gamecocks over Southern Cal is a pass catching machine. So talented, that Coach Spurrier on multiple occasions this fall has publicly praised Jeffery and stated the need to get him on the field. Jeffery was a highlight reel big play WR in high school and has shown no intentions this fall in shying away from that level of play.
The last WR that has a chance to make a name for himself this fall is WR Demario Bennett. Bennett, a relative unknown throughout the recruiting process, was offered by the Gamecocks at their showcase camp last summer and committed to play for the Gamecocks. To understand just how talented Bennett is, the Gamecocks had to hold off a determined Florida Gator coaching staff to secure Bennett's signature on signing day. At 6'3" 185lbs Bennett possesses game breaking ability. Bennett had the best overall testing numbers of any of the gamecock WR's when they were tested this summer. If Bennett recovers from his recently injured shoulder, he should see meaningful minutes this fall, and the coaches are confident that he will produce when his number is called.
Lastly, don't forget about Stephon Gilmore in the Wild Cock Formation. Gilmore will again be another player that has the ability to take it to the house at any time. He is just another weapon in the Gamecock arsenal this fall that will keep opposing teams guessing and unsure of themselves.
5. Coach Steve Spurrier's renewed excitement and enthusiasm has been noticeable this fall. The reasons for that excitement seem to be the newly constructed coaching staff, which Spurrier calls possibly the best group of coaches he has ever had, and the addition of a tremendously talented freshman class. Coach Spurrier, in the past has always seemed to wear his emotions on his sleeves and has been blatantly honest. For Gamecock fans this renewed excitement should be a source of comfort as the kickoff for this season approaches. Has Coach Spurrier still been frustrated at times this fall? Sure, but he has also said on multiple occasions that he feels like this coaching staff and group of players comprises the most talented team and product that he will put on the field during his tenure as head coach at South Carolina. A confident coach Spurrier and one who is just as ready as the fans to win and win big is a good sign for Gamecock nation.
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