South Carolina released the depth chart for the season-opener against the North Carolina Tarheels in a nationally-televised clash this upcoming Thursday.
The Gamecocks are expected to be led by junior defensive end Jadeveon Clowney as well as quarterbacks senior Connor Shaw and junior Dylan Thompson on offense.
Here are a few thoughts on the roster breakdown as we get closer to gameday:
-The initial surprise was seeing freshman wide receiver Pharoh Cooper listed as second team behind starter Nick Jones. Cooper, who signed with South Carolina as a defensive back, made the switch over to offense just a short time ago and has already made an impact on the depth chart. Cooper is a dazzling playmaker with the ball in his hands and played offense in high school so the experience on that side of the ball is there. The surprise is that he's able to make the switch and already put himself in position to be a part of the wide receiver rotation. It's obvious Spurrier wanted this quickness and speed on offense and the move has appeared to have paid off.
-Bruce Ellington is listed behind Damiere Byrd at a wide receiver spot comes as a bit of a surprise. Ellington is the elder statesman in this wide receiver group and was expected to take the next step towards stardom in the SEC. He has missed time due to injury during fall camp, which likely explains his name as a second-teamer right now. Make no mistake though, Ellington will be a starter and stay one once he's healthy enough.
-Mason Zandi finds himself behind Corey Robinson at the left tackle position. Zandi, a long-term project on the offensive line, has done nothing but impressed the coaches and added the necessary weight to handle the role. He's up to 293 pounds while standing 6-foot-9. He should still add some weight to what is a thin frame for someone that tall but it's paramount to the effort level that Zandi has put in this far. Remember, Corey Robinson has had some issues here and there during the career and he's one bad play from being pulled in favor of the redshirt freshman behind.
-The defense looks pretty much as expected with no real surprises here. Kaiwan Lewis earned the middle linebacker starting position while Marcquis Roberts has taken over at weakside linebacker. Roberts has had injury issues since enrolling at South Carolina but has done well this fall camp and should see plenty of time this season. Three high school true freshman find themselves on the depth chart: Jonathan Walton, Larenz Bryant and Skai Moore. It's an impressive haul for the Gamecocks at the position but these freshman will likely be counted on heavily during the season.
-Another surprise on defense was seeing true freshman Jamarri Smith listed as second-team cornerback behind Jimmy Legree. Smith, like Cooper, made the switch from the position that he was expected to play when he signed with South Carolina. The Gamecocks brought Smith in to be a running back but he has made the switch over to cornerback with ease. There is still a transition that needs to happen but Smith has made plays in practice and is making his move up the depth chart. The coaches would likely rather go with more experience but if Smith is the next best option, he could have his chance early this season.
-The Gamecocks haven't settled on a kicker yet as it's currently up to either Landon Ard, Nick St. Germain or Elliott Fry to win the job. One would expect Ard or St. Germain to be the front-runner, but Coach Spurrier has recently said that Fry has stepped up to be the potential main man for South Carolina. Fry was a top prospect out of Texas who walked on to South Carolina this year but has one of those "big-time" legs that everyone wants in a kicker. Fry turned down a scholarship offer from Louisiana Tech to become a Gamecock and that decision has already paid off for the young kicker. It's a lot of pressure for someone with no college experience but he's got the physical traits that the Gamecocks need in a kicker.
-South Carolina is hoping Ryland Culbertson becomes the next Walker Inabinet at long snapper. The Gamecocks have been extremely solid in long snapping the last few years under Inabinet and want that to continue with Culbertson.
-Victor Hampton will get the chance to do both punt returns and kick returns against UNC. Hampton has done the best in hanging onto the football on punt returns, and with Ellington ailing, Hampton has the experience at kick returns as well. There are concerns here but if Hampton can stay cool and make smart decisions then he could certainly succeed in this role.
Overall, the interesting thing with the depth chart is that there are only four seniors listed on the entire chart, offense and defense. A South Carolina team that's ranked No. 6 in the preseason doesn't have a lot of veteran leadership. It goes to show that the coaches have improved the talent on this roster and everyone has an opportunity to play if they are good enough. This shows great depth and great potential for future success as well.
Hopefully, all of this means that come Thursday night, the Gamecocks will be 1-0.