The University of South Carolina completed their annual Spring Scrimmage on Saturday, March 31st. The event was televised on the SEC Network and coverage lasted for nearly two hours. I will identify some things that I observed from their spring camp and attempt to forecast how they will fare in 2018, who may be relevant in CFF, and who may be entering a critical year for their Devy Stock.
Out with the old and in with the new. Kurt Roper was let go last season, and now the offense will be led by Bryan McClendon and Dave Werner. The most noticeable change was the tempo at which they played. To start the scrimmage, they ran three plays in just under 45 seconds. That is the polar opposite of the methodical tempo at which this unit operated under the previous regime. To provide some background on what this offense could potentially look like, I would say look back to Ole Miss’ offense that was directed by Bo Wallace and Chad Kelly. Werner helped to implement and guide the RPO-heavy offense that utilized tempo to frustrate defenses. Jake Bentley, now an upperclassman, has been up-and-down as the QB at South Carolina, but this system seems to suit him very well. Here is an interview that he did following the scrimmage where he describes what he likes about the new offense and why he believes it’s effective.
— SEC Country SC (@SECCountrySC) March 31, 2018
The Gamecocks’ greatest strength as a team lies in their skill talent. In particular, their wide receivers are a very talented group and this philosophical change should help to maximize their strengths. In the scrimmage, Bentley was 15-of-25 for 174 yards and two touchdowns. Bryan Edwards was his primary target and he made seven catches for 117 yards and scored a TD.
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I did a bit of research into what some of Ole Miss’ offense looked like when Werner was on staff. This twitter thread will show my findings in greater detail than what I will cover in this article.
Good read on USCe QB Jake Bentley. Few teams will have as much talent in a four-wide-set as the Gamecocks will this season. That team will go as far as Bentley will take them. Spring game next Saturday for them, blocking off the calendar to watch live and tweet about it. https://t.co/E64NyWMhZt
— FranchiseKF (@FranchiseKF) March 25, 2018
My main takeaways were that Jake Bentley’s stock is up, both Bryan Edwards and Deebo Samuel’s stocks should rise, and there may not be a singular running back that is worth rostering unless it’s a very deep league. As far as the WRs go, the challenge will be identifying which player will be the WR1. If you base the decision just on this spring, Edwards is the easy choice as Samuel has focused on rehabbing from last year’s injury and was held out of the scrimmage. The WR1 in the former Ole Miss offenses have averaged close to 205 points per season in full PPR formats. The WR2 averaged 141 points per season in full PPR formats. If we use last year’s rankings as a baseline, the WR1 could expect a Top 20 WR finish while the WR2 could expect a Top 70 finish. Both Edwards and Samuel have a history of injuries so it’s entirely possible their health could be the largest factor that determines their ceilings. In Saturday’s scrimmage, Ty’Son Williams ran with the 1s and was effective as both a runner and receiver. AJ Turner spelled him, and he had a terrific scrimmage as well. Turner caught a very long touchdown and ran effectively both between and outside the tackles. True freshman and early enrollee, Deshaun Fenwick, is made more in the mold of Williams and ran with power and determination. Rico Dowdle is the other back that was held out of the scrimmage, but he is talented and will likely be a part of their committee approach. Shi Smith would be a player to target in dynasty formats or would even be a “handcuff” of sorts of you have Deebo on your roster and have an extra roster spot.
I’ll start with the highest value players: Edwards and Samuel. As I previously mentioned, health has been an issue for both players, but it’s a very serious concern for Samuel who has missed the majority of his collegiate career due to injuries. If both can have a healthy season, I think both players will be considered within the first 50 picks of next year’s NFL Draft. While Jake Bentley’s production should increase this season, I can already read the Twitter feeds of his detractors. Like many productive QBs from the past several seasons, they have run systems which place less emphasis on going through progressions. The old school scouts will undoubtedly shake their fingers at this change. The good news is that in the real world, the NFL is moving more towards this style of play and Bentley has also already started 20 games in a boring, ineffective, “Pro-Style-Offense.” The player that disappointed me most during the scrimmage in which I was able to observe was rising sophomore, OrTre Smith. At 6’4” and 220 pounds, Smith is built like a genetically modified oak tree. Unfortunately, his build and potential haven’t meant that he’s proven to be overly dynamic. There were several instances during the scrimmage where he got his hands on a ball and didn’t catch it or he failed to create enough separation from defensive backs. That’s not necessarily his game, but if you are built to play Auden Tate’s game then you best be a bully and come down with everything thrown your way. Smith is still a 19-year-old that has only been in college for one year. He didn’t necessarily play poorly, I just wanted to see more in terms of refining his route running, improving his explosiveness, and being a dangerous red zone threat. This recruiting cycle, South Carolina signed an incredibly dynamic dual-threat QB in Dakereon Joyner. Joyner played a lot in the scrimmage, and he showed flashes of his incredible athleticism but also showed he is very raw and not ready to play QB in the SEC. The good news, he has plenty of time to develop behind Bentley.