South Carolina football begins preseason training Friday with plenty of positivity surrounding the Gamecocks in coach Shane Beamer’s second season.
Here are five questions the program faces with the season opener Sept. 3 at home against Georgia State.
How much will Spencer Rattler help Josh Vann?
Vann had a career year last season despite catches by four different starting quarterbacks. He posted 43 catches for 679 yards and five touchdowns after going 47 for 277 and two touchdowns his first three years. The arrival of quarterback Shane Rattler could help Vann’s numbers improve significantly for a second straight season.
It’s hard to predict how the transfers of Antwane Wells Jr. and Corey Rucker, who both had big seasons last year against lighter competition, will fare in the SEC. Ahmarean Brown could be a player in his second year to make the kind of leap that Vann did. Veteran Xavier Legette has the talent to make the top two, but he’s been unable to stay healthy, playing just 15 games in three years and never more than six a season.
Who is the starting kicker?
Replacing Parker White, one of the best kickers in program history, is crucial. The competition pits junior Mitch Jeter, who has handled the majority of kickoffs over the past two seasons, against junior Alex Herrera, who started in four games last year. Neither attempted a field goal.
“We’re going to give these guys a lot of opportunities and put them in a lot of different situations to see who gets separated,” Beamer said. “If there’s anything to worry about, it’s just the lack of playing experience. He’ll be the most consistent guy that we have a good sense of being able to come out and produce when called upon.”
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Will the attack improve after struggling in 2021?
It was a turbulent first season under coordinator Marcus Satterfield, with the Gamecocks finishing 13th in points and yards per game in the SEC. The Gamecocks have added transfers that could have an immediate impact in passing and running games. Running back Christian Beal-Smith has led Wake Forest in rushing each of the past two seasons and tight end Austin Stogner is Oklahoma’s former fourth-year player. Teaming up with Rattler, Wells and Rucker should provide more than enough for a big turnaround.
“We can be more multiple and we have some flexibility because we have more pieces there,” Beamer said.
Who will provide the rush pass?
The departure of starters Kingsley “JJ” Enagbare and Aaron Sterling, who played nine seasons together for the Gamecocks, leaves a big void on the edge. According to the 247Sports Composite, junior Jordan Burch still has time to live up to the hype of being the second highest-ranked recruit in program history behind Jadeveon Clowney.
Burch was good, but not great and is now becoming one of the team’s most popular players.
“(Burch) knows it’s his time now,” Beamer said.
The other likely starter is Jordan Strachan, who had three sacks and six tackles for the loss last season. Strachan is in his sixth and second season with the Gamecocks after initially joining Georgia State as a walk-in safety. In 2020, he tied for the FBS lead with 10.5 sacks.
Terrell Dawkins could make his way into an important role after being transferred from the state of North Carolina where he spent three years. Dawkins was hampered by injuries last year, but in 2020 he has recorded 36 tackles, nine for loss and 4.5 sacks.
How good can Zacch Pickens be in final year?
The senior defensive tackle remains the main component in the middle. The former five-star TL recruit Hanna made as many upgrades as anyone on the team as a junior. He went from a part-time starter to starting all 13 games with 38 tackles and his four sacks for second on the team.
Continued improvement would help in a very young group of positions where he is one of only three linemen on the team in 10 more experienced than a redshirt sophomore.