One of South Carolina's biggest offensive weapons may not play in the Gamecocks' opener versus North Carolina on Thursday night in Columbia.
Junior wide receiver Bruce Ellington has been limited during fall camp with a nagging hamstring injury, and it could prevent him from seeing the field in the opener.
"Bruce has had a bad hamstring during preseason practice," head coach Steve Spurrier said during the SEC coaches' teleconference on Wednesday. "I don't know how much he'll be able to play."
Ellington's absence would leave a gaping hole in the Gamecocks offense. He caught 40 passes for 600 yards and seven touchdowns last season, including the game-winning touchdown in the final minute of South Carolina's 33-28 win over Michigan in the 2013 Outback Bowl.
The 5'9", 196-pounder from Moncks Corner, S.C. has proven throughout his career that he has the speed to stretch the field, hands that quarterbacks Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson can rely on and the toughness to excel in the SEC despite being smaller than most wide receivers.
If Ellington can't go or isn't at 100 percent, who's going to step up?
One likely candidate is sophomore Shaq Roland.
The 2011 high school "Mr. Football" in the state of South Carolina didn't exactly live up to expectations during his freshman campaign, catching only five passes for 80 yards and one touchdown. He came to Columbia from Lexington (S.C.) High School as a 4-star prospect in the 247Sports.com composite index.
Don't be fooled by his lack of production as a true freshman. Roland has plenty of upside and has impressed the coaching staff this summer.
"All of the other guys have done pretty well [in fall camp]," Spurrier said. "Shaq Roland is a receiver who we feel has a lot of talent. Hopefully he comes into his own this year."
One look at his high school highlights and you can see why he had so many accolades attached to his name. He has 4.4 speed in the 40-yard dash, runs crisp routes and is dripping with athleticism.
Damiere Byrd is another guy to keep an eye on. The 5'9", 166-pounder is listed above Ellington on South Carolina's Week 1 depth chart. The two players share similar characteristics on the field, but Byrd is more of a home-run threat. He caught 14 passes a year ago for 366 yards and three touchdowns.
That 26.14 yards-per-reception figure is nothing to scoff at.
Sophomore Shamier Jeffery shared "most improved" honors among wide receivers with Roland exiting spring practice, and he could see more passes thrown his way if Ellington sits. The younger brother of former Gamecock Alshon Jeffery hasn't yet caught a pass in college, but he earned his way into the rotation above K.J. Brent this offseason.
At 6'1", 207 pounds, Jeffery is a guy who would could capitalize on his offseason momentum and gain valuable game experience in Ellington's absence.
Toss in shifty starter Nick Jones and reserve Jody Fuller, and South Carolina has options if Ellington can't go. Jones had 12 catches for 197 yards last season and is the closest thing to an Ace Sanders' clone on this year's Gamecock roster.
The Head Ball Coach knows that a hamstring injury isn't something that should be pushed. Luckily for Spurrier, has accumulated quite a bit of depth at wide receiver. That could come in handy during the opener.
*Barrett Sallee is the lead SEC college football writer for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand from Wednesday's SEC coaches' teleconference.
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