South Carolina Football: How Gamecocks Plan to Survive Without Alshon Jeffery
Alshon Jeffery will be catching touchdowns in 2012.
The only problem is, it will be for the NFL's Chicago Bears instead of the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Jeffery left school early to enter the 2012 NFL draft and was a second-round pick by the Bears. Jeffery's talent will be hard to replace this season for the Gamecocks, but they will look at a variety of ways to fill the void from Jeffery's departure.
The Gamecocks have options currently on campus, a few players who are headed that way and other ways to try to make this offense the best it can be.
Here is a rundown of a few ways South Carolina will plan to survive without Alshon Jeffery.
No. 1: Heavy Focus on the Running Game
Steve Spurrier has found a way to win the past two seasons at South Carolina from an unexpected area on offense.
The renewed focus with the running game has helped South Carolina press forward when there were struggles in the passing game.
Marcus Lattimore has dominated college football since bursting onto the scene, but the Gamecocks have a lot more talent behind him.
Senior Kenny Miles and sophomore Brandon Wilds filled in for Lattimore when he was injured midway through the 2011 season. Redshirt freshman Shon Carson won the second team job out of fall camp before a season-ending injury sidelined him during the Georgia game. There's also incoming freshman Mike Davis, who some people think could be the second best running back on campus when he enrolls this summer.
Needless to say, this is a stacked area for the Gamecocks.
This offense relied on Lattimore, Wilds and Miles last year when there was inconsistencies in the passing game. A transition of quarterbacks certainly didn't help, but it took most of the season for the passing attack to take shape. In the meantime, the Gamecock running backs kept this offense rolling along.
It may not be pretty at times, but if you can pound the opposing defense with a strong running game, then things will fall in place for the air attack. It worked last year, so expect the Gamecocks to try it again in 2012.
No. 2: Give Connor Shaw the "Reins" to the Offense
Connor Shaw stepped in for the Gamecocks in 2011 when they needed him the most.
He performed at near perfection at times down the stretch for the Gamecocks. Now, Steve Spurrier hopes to let his quarterback loose on the SEC in 2012.
Shaw is known to be a football junkie. He lives and breathes the sport, spending most of his time trying to better himself, and in turn, making the Gamecocks a better football team. Steve Spurrier has an offense run off a basic principle that can turn into a complex offense.
The only way for that to happen, though, is to have a smart enough quarterback to run it.
Connor Shaw appears to be the guy for the Gamecocks.
There has to be a quarterback who can read the pre-snap coverage and make audibles from bad plays to good. He has to know where his spots are for his receivers and be able to place the football with pinpoint accuracy. Most importantly, he has to be able to handle Steve Spurrier's criticism.
Shaw has the ability to do all of this for South Carolina. The last three games showed the accuracy and confidence of the young quarterback growing into a player Steve Spurrier can be proud of.
A smart quarterback that knows this offense well could certainly make it easier on his receivers to fill the void of Alshon Jeffery. Connor Shaw should be expected to have a big 2012 season for South Carolina.
No. 3: Utilize the Talent at Tight End
South Carolina has finally found some talent at the tight end position, and there's an abundance waiting to be used this season.
Senior Justice Cunningham returns as the established veteran. He may not have the most stellar career numbers overall, but he's a consistent performer who has played in 40 games in the past three seasons. He is a great blocker, which adds value in the passing game as well as the run game. He can also catch the ball well and line up at fullback in certain formations.
USC has Rory Anderson returning for his second season as a Gamecock. Anderson has the build of a wide receiver, but can be a mismatch at the tight end position. Three of Anderson's eight catches in 2011 went for touchdowns. He can be that big passing threat thanks to his height at 6'5" tall.
The Gamecocks will have freshmen Drew Owens, Jerrell Adams and Kelvin Rainey to mix in as well. Owens, Adams and Rainey are all over 6'3" tall, with Rainey being the smallest at 6'3". All three possess the height, hands and flexibility to line up either in the traditional tight end position or flexed out in the slot. Adams may be the best athlete of the three, as he has the potential to be a star defensive end as well.
These players can be a vital part of this offense. They all add value as receiving threats as well as an extra blocker. If Shaw can find a way to get these players involved, the big-play potential is there.
With their height, they certainly can be used as part of the game plan to replace Alshon Jeffery. However, that's easier said than done.
No. 4: Involve the Freshman Right Away
The Gamecocks have had some recent success with freshman players the last few seasons. Names like Jadeveon Clowney, Stephon Gilmore, Marcus Lattimore and Alshon Jeffery have all had some serious impact on South Carolina's season their freshman years.
This year's incoming class of freshman receivers have a chance to make an immediate impact given the uncertainty at the wide receiver position. The Gamecocks have returning talent in Ace Sanders, Damiere Byrd, Bruce Ellington and K.J. Brent, but the opportunity is there for the young freshman to step in right away.
The best option coming for South Carolina is Shaq Roland from Lexington High School. Roland won Mr. Football in the state of South Carolina for his superb senior year. Roland caught 79 passes in 2011 for 1,546 yards with 19 receiving touchdowns. He also scored 10 rushing touchdowns as well. He's got good hands and has speed in the 4.45 range in the 40-yard-dash.
His basketball background certainly helps with positioning on the jump ball, as does his leaping ability. Roland has a chance to make an impact like Alshon Jeffery did his freshman season. It may take a few games for the freshman to get involved, but once he does, be on the lookout for some great plays from this true freshman.
The other two incoming freshman receivers are Jody Fuller and Kwinton Smith. Fuller may be the more game-ready receiver now, as he has good size at 6'0" tall and weighing 200 pounds. His strong, sturdy frame gives him the ability to get open and make the tough catch.
Smith is a taller receiver, standing 6'3" tall, but has deceptive speed and is a solid route runner. He's a dual-sport athlete playing both baseball and football and plans to play baseball at the next level. This should tell you he's an athlete.
All three players can offer something a little different on the field. The opportunity will be there for all three to step in and play. They just need to be prepared to the fullest.
It's always good to have options.