South Carolina football begins preseason practice Friday with plenty of positive sentiment regarding the Gamecocks in coach Shane Beamer’s sophomore season.
Here are five questions the program faces at home against Georgia State in the Sept. 3 season opener.
How much will Spencer Rattler help Josh Vann?
Vann had a career year last season despite catching passes from four different starting quarterbacks. He had 43 catches for 679 yards and five touchdowns after totaling 47 for 277 and two touchdowns in his first three years. The arrival of quarterback Shane Rattler could help Vann’s numbers improve significantly for a second straight season.
It’s hard to predict how transfers Antwane Wells Jr. and Corey Rucker, both of whom have had big seasons against easier competition over the past year, will fare in the SEC. Ahmarean Brown, in his sophomore year, could be a player to make the leap Vann made. Veteran Xavier Legette has the knack of being a top-2 guy, but he hasn’t been able to stay healthy, having only played 15 games in three years and never more than six in a season.
Who is the starting kicker?
Replacing Parker White, one of the best kickers in program history, is crucial. The competition is between junior Mitch Jeter, who has handled the most kickoffs over the past two seasons, and junior Alex Herrera, who started in four games last year. None attempted a field goal.
“We’re going to give these guys a lot of opportunities and put them in a lot of different situations to see who breaks up,” Beamer said. “If there’s a problem, it’s just the lack of gaming experience. It’s going to be the guy that’s the most consistent that we just have a great feeling about going out and producing when asked to do so.”
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After the difficulties, will the offense improve in 2021?
It was a bumpy first season under coordinator Marcus Satterfield, which saw the Gamecocks rank 13th in the SEC in points and yards per game. The Gamecocks added transfers that could have an immediate impact on passing and running games. Running back Christian Beal-Smith led Wake Forest in rushing for the past two seasons, and tight end Austin Stogner is a former fourth-year Oklahoma player. Working together with Rattler, Wells and Rucker should provide more than enough for a major turnaround.
“We can be more diverse and we have some flexibility because we have more parts there,” Beamer said.
Who provides the pass rush?
The departure of starters Kingsley “JJ” Enagbare and Aaron Sterling, who played nine seasons together for the Gamecocks, leaves a big void on the sidelines. Junior Jordan Burch still has time to live up to the hype of being the second-highest recruit in program history behind Jadeveon Clowney, according to the 247Sports Composite.
Burch was good but not great and is now becoming one of the most respected players on the team.
“[Burch]knows now is his time,” Beamer said.
The other likely starter is Jordan Strachan, who lost three sacks and six tackles last season. Strachan is a sixth-season and runner-up with the Gamecocks after initially joining Georgia State as a walk-on safety. In 2020, he took the FBS lead with 10.5 sacks.
Terrell Dawkins could work his way into a major role after moving from North Carolina State, where he spent three years. Dawkins was hampered by injuries last year, but in 2020 he registered 36 tackles, nine for losses and 4.5 sacks.
How good can Zacch Pickens be last year?
The main defense remains the main component in the middle. Former TL Hanna five-star recruit improved as a junior just like everyone else on the team. He went from a part-time starter to a 38 tackle start in all 13 games and his four sacks tied for second on the team.
Continued improvement would help in a very young position group where he’s one of only three of the team’s 10 linemen more experienced than a sophomore redshirt.