In 2010, South Carolina's weakness was obvious heading into the season. The offensive line was a mess, and it took great coaching and a few players stepping up for it to become a cohesive unit.
In 2011, the weakness is clear as well: the tight ends. While not called upon to do much, this unit will be needed to provide a bit more offense than last year.
With Weslye Saunders being kicked off the team last year, it looked as though someone would have the opportunity to step up and be a contributor. No one did, other than fullback/tight end Patrick DiMarco and, to some extent, Justice Cunningham (who is an excellent blocker).
This year, a crop of highly recruited freshmen tight ends with offensive skill-sets should be set to play a big role.
Weight: 262 lbs.
Pros: Size, strength, blocking, tackle breaking
Cons: Speed, hands, concentration, ability to get open
Justice Cunningham is a good football player. Not a great one, but good. He can make plays in the passing game at times, and has shown a great knack for blocking. He won the 2010 Best Blocker Award for spring practice, which was impressive.
He has grown into a solid tight end, but someone needs to step up as a downfield receiving threat from the position. Cunningham can make solid catches, but he isn't built to be that guy.
Weight: 265 lbs.
Year: Redshirt Freshman
Pros: Size, strength, tackle breaking, hands
Cons: Experience, speed, blocking technique
Corey is a bit of an unknown quantity. He played tight end in high school, then switched to defensive end when he got to Carolina, then switched back to tight end for this season (which shows how bad the tight end situation is).
During the spring game, he whiffed on a few blocks, but made a couple of catches. He honestly looks like Justice Cunningham 2.0, but a lesser blocker. He has the size and skill-set to develop into a nice tight end, but as it stands he has to step up in order to be the No. 2 on the depth chart.
Weight: 225 lbs.
Year: Redshirt Junior
Pros: Agility, intelligence
Cons: Size, blocking, catching, experience (was a quarterback in high school), toughness
Payton Brady is sort of a strange player. He is a walk-on quarterback who transferred from the Campbell "Fighting Camels," where he played wide receiver and fullback. He only appeared in the Orange-Black game for that team.
He is now transitioning to tight end, where I don't believe he will see any playing time, and is serving as a placeholder for the freshmen that South Carolina has coming in.
On the bright side, he has a budding modeling career. No, seriously. Google search him.
Weight: 248 lbs.
Year: Redshirt Sophomore
Pros: Strength, blocking
Cons: Speed, hands, route running
Chaun Gresham had great potential as a defensive lineman, but has converted to tight end due to the crowded nature of South Carolina's loaded defensive line, the weak tight end depth and his lack of size.
He will be used as a blocker, and will have a role in that regard and as a special teams player. He could possibly convert back to defensive line if the freshmen play well.
Weight: 220 lbs.
Year: Incoming Freshman
Pros: Speed, hands, height, ability to use his body to make catches
Cons: Blocking (more of a pass catcher in high school), size (needs weight), experience
This is a very exciting prospect who has the look of a Jared Cook 2.0. Long arms, good receiving skills and 4.5 speed make him the most obvious pass catching threat out of the tight end position.
He looks more like a wide receiver though, and needs to add weight without losing speed. He could redshirt this year, but I think he may find his way on the field as a pass catching specialist. The team needs a player with his skill-set at this position.
Weight: 200 lbs.
Year: Incoming Freshman
Pros: Speed (for his position), hands, route running (watch his highlights, he looks very crisp)
Cons: Blocking, size (200 pounds?)
Rory Anderson is a tight end I fully expect to see redshirted, due to his 200 pound frame. He could be a liability on run plays until he adds 20-30 pounds of muscle. If he doesn't, he could be moved to wide receiver. His 4.65 speed isn't super impressive in general, but it is good enough to beat linebackers.
He is a very intense player and will find a way on the field for South Carolina. If not this year, then the next.
Weight: 227 lbs.
Year: Incoming Freshman
Pros: Size, strength, hands
Cons: Speed, experience, blocking, agility
Not the fastest of the incoming freshmen with a 4.78 forty time, but Drew Owens may be the most complete. He has moderate blocking ability, which is rare for a pass catching tight end. However, blocking is almost always a weakness with tight ends coming out of high school, and he will need to work on that.
He has a good build, and has the frame to put on a good 20 or 30 pounds in a few years. I am not positive that he will redshirt. In fact, I think that he (along with Jerel Adams) will make the depth chart for the 2011 season, and be a contributing factor.
This year's group grade will depend on two things: The play of starter Justice Cunningham, who has shown tremendous ability but no consistency, and the play of the incoming freshmen.
The depth is weak, and this could easily be an "F" group. It could also move up to a "C" by the end of the year. However, this group will tend to be invisible, as there are too many weapons on South Carolina's roster for them to make much of an impact.
It will be the blocking and little things that the tight ends do that will define them.