Taking over as a first-time head coach is never easy, but South Carolina's Shane Beamer is certainly ready for this challenge. As the son of legendary Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer, Shane has been around college football his entire life and had stints under Kirby Smart at Georgia and Lincoln Riley at Oklahoma to learn from some of the top coaches in the game right now. Also, he coached in Columbia from 2007-10, so there's no doubt Beamer understands what it takes to win at South Carolina. While Beamer seems like a good fit for this job, the Gamecocks have several roster concerns to address in spring ball and his debut this fall isn't going to be easy. Luke Doty's development at quarterback will be under the spotlight, and the defense has to take significant steps forward after struggling in 2020.
For every new coach, the to-do list after the initial press conference is pretty standard. The head coach has to recruit, implement scheme changes, build a staff of quality assistants and coordinators, discuss potential NFL draft impact with juniors and work on any facility or support staff requests. Needless to say, that’s a lot.
While every coach has those goals in mind, it’s never too early to look at some of the personnel concerns surrounding a program and a new coach for the upcoming year.
Here’s an early look at five personnel question marks for Beamer to address in 2021:
South Carolina Football: 5 Priorities for New Coach Shane Beamer in 2021
1. The Quarterback Room
With Collin Hill opting to move on, and Ryan Hilinski transferring to Northwestern, Luke Doty has the inside track to win the starting quarterback job. The South Carolina native brings an intriguing skill set to the lineup after rating as the No. 4 dual-threat quarterback in the 2020 signing class. Doty got his first taste of action in the SEC last fall by playing in eight games and starting two. During that stint, he connected on 43 of 71 passes for 405 yards and two touchdowns to three picks. Doty also showcased his mobility by chipping in 91 yards on 41 carries. New play-caller Marcus Satterfield will spend the spring building an offense around Doty’s strengths, while also developing some of the other players due to the lack of experience. St. Francis (Pa.) transfer Jason Brown and incoming freshman Colten Gauthier will join for 2021 to provide depth and battle for the backup job. Brown is an intriguing addition after throwing for 3,084 yards and 28 touchdowns to just six picks for the Red Flash in 2019.
2. Identify Multiple Playmakers at WR
Shi Smith accounted for 57 of South Carolina’s 175 receptions in 2020 and his departure to the NFL leaves a void on the outside. Tight end Nick Muse (30) is the top returning statistical option, and running back Kevin Harris pitched in 21 catches last year. However, the top two wide receivers after Smith in terms of receptions combined for just 21 in 2020. With Smith gone, it’s up to Josh Vann (10), Jalen Brooks (11), and Dakereon Joyner (seven) to take on a bigger role in the passing game. Georgia Tech transfer Ahmarean Brown caught 21 passes for 396 yards and seven touchdowns in 2019 and should be an impact addition for ’21. Also, 6-foot-7 St. Francis (Pa.) transfer E.J. Jenkins is poised to push for snaps. The Gamecocks are thin here, so developing younger players and developing depth is crucial this spring.
3. Lean on the Backfield
Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Texas A&M all boast deep backfields for 2021, but don’t overlook what South Carolina returns. After receiving limited opportunities as a freshman in ’20, Kevin Harris ran for 1,138 yards and 15 touchdowns on just 185 attempts for the Gamecocks last fall. He ran for more than 200 yards in games against Kentucky and Ole Miss and eclipsed 100 in three other contests. Harris should be among the SEC’s top running backs for 2021, but freshman MarShawn Lloyd is too talented to keep on the sidelines. The Maryland native did not play last season due to a preseason knee injury but rated as the No. 43 overall prospect in the 2020 signing class. Satterfield needs to find a way to get both players on the field and involved to help improve an offense that managed only 23.5 points a game last year.
4. Rebuild the Secondary
The Gamecocks returned one of the SEC’s better defensive backfields last season but finished 13th in the league in pass efficiency defense. A pass rush that only generated 14 sacks didn’t provide much help to the back end, but this area has to be rebuilt with the departures of cornerbacks Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu early to the NFL. Additionally, John Dixon (Penn State) and Jammie Robinson (Florida State) transferred, while safety Shilo Sanders is headed to Jackson State. A healthy season from Jaylin Dickerson would bolster the safety position, while veterans R.J. Roderick and Jaylan Foster are back for 2021. This offseason, the spotlight at cornerback will be on the development of young players like Cam Smith, Joey Hunter and Darius Rush. Georgia Southern transfer David Spaulding should also push for snaps at cornerback.
5. Improve the Play Up Front
South Carolina ranked 13th in the SEC versus the run and generated only 14 sacks in 10 games last season. It’s a cliche to some extent but winning in the SEC requires strong play in the trenches. And this unit has to be a lot better under new coordinator Clayton White for the defense to take a step forward as a whole on the stat sheet. For the Gamecocks to improve up front, former top recruits Zachh Pickens and Jordan Burch need to be a big part of the defensive rotation, and a healthy Aaron Sterling off the edge should help the pass rush. Tonka Hemingway is back after a promising freshman season, while veterans Kingsley Enagbare, Jabari Ellis, and M.J. Webb ensure there are plenty of proven options. Linebacker Ernest Jones led the team in tackles in each of the last two seasons but is off to the NFL. A healthy Sherrod Greene, along with Georgia State transfer Jordan Strachan should help to alleviate some of the concern at linebacker with Jones off to the NFL. Plugging the voids at linebacker and continuing to develop the play in the trenches are two keys if South Carolina wants to improve on this side of the ball in 2021.
Podcast: Offense vs. Defense, Early Vegas Odds and Week 1 Games for 2021
Photo courtesy of @CoachSBeamer)