Position-by-Position Analysis of South Carolina's 2014 Roster
South Carolina lost a few key players in No. 1 overall draft pick Jadeveon Clowney, rock-solid quarterback Connor Shaw and a handful of other players. Despite losing some major talents on both sides of the ball, the Gamecocks return a team with a great deal of experience.
The team may be young in certain areas, but the experience gained during last season will help to carry the Gamecocks a long way in 2014.
With double-digit win season after double-digit win season for head ball coach Steve Spurrier and his Gamecocks, the bar is set high in 2014, especially considering this could be one of the most complete and overall talented rosters Spurrier has had the privilege of coaching during his tenure in Columbia.
South Carolina is loaded up offensively and making progress on the defense throughout the offseason, so this team could potentially make waves in 2014 en route to the College Football Playoff.
Here is a position-by-position analysis of the South Carolina Gamecocks' 2014 football roster.
Starter: Dylan Thompson
Backups: Connor Mitch, Perry Orth, Brendan Nosovitch
Dylan Thompson is the man in charge of leading the offense, and there couldn't be a more prepared guy for the role. After spending time backing up Connor Shaw and filling in for Shaw every time he suffered an injury, Thompson built up the experience and confidence to one day be in this position.
Thompson's strong arm and command of the field should bolster the South Carolina passing game, especially in the pro-style formation plays. Thompson has been waiting for the moment to lead his Gamecocks as the starter, and now that time has come. He is leaps and bounds ahead of the other quarterbacks on the roster and could turn some heads in 2014 if he makes the right decisions on the field.
The backups behind Thompson in Columbia are not quite ready for action on the field.
The most ready of the three to take action would be Connor Mitch. Mitch has huge potential for the future, but is still young and developing.
Orth could be the most prepared to assist if Thompson goes down with an injury.
Nosovitch, arguably the player expected to be the backup before the spring, has a long way to go to prove that he is the man for the job.
Barring health concerns, South Carolina is set at quarterback so long as Thompson is at the helm.
Starter: Mike Davis
Backups: Brandon Wilds, Shon Carson, David Williams
The South Carolina Gamecocks' running game exploded onto the scene in 2013 due in large part to the exceptional play from Mike Davis. And heading into 2014, Mike Davis is leading the way as not only the best back on the team, but one of the best in the country.
Davis is an elite talent with his versatility, consistency and explosiveness to make the big play. He is a great receiving back, too.
Brandon Wilds spent much of the last season on the sidelines with injuries, but now that he is healthy, Wilds should have a role in the power running game. Wilds is big and fierce with his north-south running, and that will help the Gamecocks in short-yardage situations and in the red zone.
Shon Carson is an excellent change-of-pace back. He is really fast, and while he hasn't done a lot on the field yet, he still has the potential to make some big plays here and there.
David Williams is a copy of Mike Davis, but he is the youngster who will snag some carries as a depth running back. It will be interesting to watch his development.
This group of players is elite so long as Mike Davis is leading the charge. Davis could have an electrifying season in 2014.
Starters: Shaq Roland, Pharoh Cooper, Damiere Byrd
Backups: Nick Jones, K.J. Brent, Shamier Jeffery, Shaq Davidson
The loss of Bruce Ellington to the NFL is a big one to overcome, but the Gamecocks have so much depth at wide receiver that someone is bound to slide right into place.
Shaq Roland needs to be the marquee target in the passing game. With his size and speed, he is a prototypical wide receiver who hasn't lived up to the hype yet. But I expect that to change in 2014, as Roland will be playing with a chip on his shoulder. He will be ready to silence the doubters.
Pharoh Cooper is more of an offensive weapon than arguably anyone else on the team. Cooper is that one player who can do it all. Throwing him in the backfield and lining him up in the slot are two options for Spurrier to utilize his home run playmaker.
Damiere Byrd is blazing fast. He can wreak havoc over the top of the defense by unleashing his top speed. It's going to be tough to cover him and pay attention to the other receiving threats.
Beyond the starters, the Gamecocks have a lot of experience, and if Shaq Davidson doesn't receive a redshirt, he could rise on the depth chart. The size of the backup receivers could pose scoring threats, especially K.J. Brent and Shamier Jeffery.
Starters: Corey Robinson LT, A.J. Cann LG, Cody Waldrop C, Mike Matulis RG, Brandon Shell RT
Backups: Mason Zandi, Na'Ty Rodgers, Will Sport, Brock Stadnik, Clayton Stadnik
The Gamecocks offensive line might be the most complete unit on the team. With Brandon Shell and A.J. Cann as the anchors of the line, South Carolina has a lot of power to run the football and drop into pass protection.
Corey Robinson provides a huge presence on the left side, as he will be in charge of protecting Thompson's blind side. Mike Matulis emerged as a more than capable starter at right guard.
This offensive line should be able to create gaps for Mike Davis and company to run through on most defenses.
Beyond the starters, the Gamecock have a ton of depth, as any of the backups can step in and the offensive line will hardly miss a beat.
South Carolina is stacked on the line and should look to take advantage of other teams all season with this squad.
Football games are won in the dirty areas known as the trenches, and South Carolina will have the upper hand on most other teams in the country with this impressive unit of offensive linemen.
Starters: Jerell Adams, Drew Owens
Backups: Rory "Busta" Anderson
It's the same trio of tight ends as last season, which is a good thing for the Gamecocks offense.
All of these players are major receiving threats as well as solid blockers. In 2013, this unit was underutilized in the passing game to the point of it being extremely frustrating to watch these huge, athletic receiving tight ends not reach their potential. I would expect this to change in 2014.
Jerell Adams is the best receiver of the bunch with his long body and exceptional leaping ability. He possesses a true nose for catching the football and is an acrobat down the field and in the red zone.
Normally, Rory "Busta" Anderson would be the No. 1 tight end, but his injury could keep him out for a long time. If he comes back and is ready to play, he will add to the experienced trio and provide yet another threat.
With Anderson out, Drew Owens must step up, and he is more than capable. He is nearly the same size as Adams and almost as good of a receiver.
So long as this unit can prove its worth in the blocking game in addition to being receiving threats, these tight ends could be a force to be reckoned with.
Starters: Darius English, Gerald Dixon, J.T. Surratt, Phillip Dukes
Backups: Mason Harris, Cedrick Cooper, Gerald Dixon Jr., Abu Lamin, Kelsey Griffin, Deon Green
A lot of the defensive success for South Carolina in 2014 hinges on this unit. And while I think the defensive line has come a long way and has big potential for 2014, I am still a skeptic for the time being. The experience drop-off from last season is worrisome, though I think the defensive line will get its act together throughout the season. It just might be a steep uphill climb.
I love what the coaching staff has done with Darius English and Cedrick Cooper. Both of these guys are true athletes who needed to get stronger while maintaining their abilities as speed-rushers off the edge. With these two guys pushing the edges with speed, anything is possible. I think English could be in for a big season with breakout numbers.
The interior of the line has tons of depth, so it doesn't concern me too much. If one player isn't working, just swap him out for the next until you find the right combination.
I really like J.T. Surratt as the leader of the line, but beyond him I see Abu Lamin, Deon Green or Kelsey Griffin becoming a consistent contributor on the line. Green had a great spring and has earned a shot at being a regular contributor on the inside.
I like the progress and the potential as well as individual players, but as a unit, this team needs to have a presence off the edges in the pass rush to relieve some pressure off the rest of the defense. The ends have to play big at all times, and that leads to my skepticism. It may take some time, but this unit has the talent to become a more complete position.
Starters: Skai Moore, Kaiwan Lewis
Backups: T.J. Holloman, Marcquis Roberts, Bryson Allen-Williams
With Skai Moore on the squad, this unit is going to be that much stronger. Moore is a powerhouse of a linebacker who snuffs out the ball and is a solid tackler.
Moore is the type of defensive player that every coach wants with his consistency and ability to be an impact player. He is going to be the force of the defense and arguably one of the leaders too.
Kaiwan Lewis complements Moore in the middle of the defense and now has the experience to hold down the fort in the middle.
T.J. Holloman is still regarded as one of the smartest players on the defense, as he has a true knack for dissecting offenses and commanding his teammates into position. Look for Holloman to be a regular contributor as a substitute, as he is like having a coach on the field.
And the crown jewel of the future is without a doubt Bryson Allen-Williams, the incoming freshman. He has set up shop in Columbia and is in great physical shape. He is eager to contribute and is a supreme talent. Allen-Williams is excited and the staff expects him to have a role on the team this fall. I think he may have more than a role and could work his way into being a consistent presence.
The linebackers are the most solid unit on the defense thanks to Skai Moore and the depth.
Starters: Brison Williams, Chaz Elder, Sharrod Golightly, T.J. Gurley and a freshman cornerback
Backups: Kadetrix Marcus, Wesley Green, Chris Lammons, D.J. Smith, Jordan Diggs, Rico McWilliams
Who in the world is going to play cornerback in 2014? The Gamecocks will be relying on incoming freshmen to play one of the toughest positions in football.
Wesley Green, Chris Lammons and D.J. Smith are all highly recruited and talented players, but the transition from high school to college ball, especially at cornerback, is a steep curve. I think Green and Lammons are more poised to be early factors, and quite frankly, South Carolina doesn't have much flexibility here.
Despite Brison Williams being an elite safety, I have him listed as a starter at cornerback for now. Considering the depth at both safety slots and the early-season need at cornerback, Williams might have to settle into the position that he experimented with and looked pretty good at during the spring. Eventually, Williams will transition back to safety, but the team needs his experience and leadership out of the gate in 2014.
Chaz Elder is ready to have a breakout season in 2014. He is continuously improving his game in big ways throughout each offseason and has earned his chance at being a major factor on the defense.
Right now, Sharrod Golightly is still the starter and is coming off a great 2013 season. But I am still in the Jordan Diggs camp, as he provides more upside with his size and coverage, two things the Gamecocks will need considering the lack of experience at cornerback.
The secondary is the biggest red flag of all the positions due to inexperience, though time can change this in 2014 since this unit has a lot of potential and talent.
Starters: Landon Ard KO, Elliott Fry PK, Tyler Hull P, Pharoh Cooper KR
Backups: Patrick Fish P, Landon Ard PK
It's the same unit as last year for the specialty kickers. The unit wasn't bad in 2013 and should be better in 2014 with a little more experience.
Tyler Hull is a solid punter, and the kickers should be able to find their rhythm.
The biggest positive on the special teams units is Pharoh Cooper. Cooper's threat to go the distance on every return will play a big role as teams should be afraid to let the ball get into his hands.
Special teams is an important aspect of the game and Cooper gives the Gamecocks an advantage over most teams. If the kicking staff can get into a rhythm and develop some consistency, there is no reason to have an concerns about the specialists.