Shane Beamer’s first season at South Carolina exceeded preseason expectations with a 7-6 finish, and the program has set its sights even higher for ’22. The return of 15 starters, along with the addition of Oklahoma transfer Spencer Rattler at quarterback, has fueled aspirations of a top-25 finish this fall.
Rattler is a massive upgrade under center for a team that cycled through three different starters in ’21, and more help to the supporting cast is on the way from the transfer portal. Beamer and his staff have work to do along the offensive line and in a few spots on defense, but the pieces are in place to push for another winning record.
What’s on tap for South Carolina in Beamer’s second spring? Here are five storylines to watch as the offseason practices get underway:
5 Storylines to Watch During South Carolina’s Spring Practices
1. Get Spencer Rattler Back on Track
South Carolina landed one of the top quarterbacks in the transfer portal in the former Oklahoma starter. The Arizona native threw for 3,031 yards and 28 touchdowns and connected on 67.5 percent of his passes in 11 starts for the Sooners in ’20. Rattler was projected among the nation’s top quarterbacks going into last season, but a combination of factors – receivers, inconsistent offensive line play and Rattler’s own mistakes – contributed to him losing the job in Norman. A reset at South Carolina under Beamer – an Oklahoma assistant for two years with Rattler – should help the former five-star recruit get back on track. Rattler’s arm talent isn’t in doubt, but he will have to be more decisive and do a better job of limiting mistakes with the ball. A fresh start should help Rattler rank among the SEC’s top quarterbacks in ’22.
2. Playmakers Around Rattler
Rattler’s arrival is a huge boost to a South Carolina offense that averaged only 22.6 points a game last year. However, Rattler’s presence isn’t enough to generate more production from the Gamecocks' attack. Playmakers around Rattler have to emerge this spring, as top running backs Kevin Harris and ZaQuandre White departed, and the receiving corps lacks depth after only one player (Josh Vann) caught more than 31 passes last fall. Vann (15.8 yards per catch) should contend for All-SEC honors, and tight end/receiver Jaheim Bell (30 catches) is an all-purpose weapon that can flex to either position. James Madison transfer Antwane Wells (83 catches in ’21) and Duke’s Mayo Bowl MVP Dakereon Joyner are two other playmakers offensive coordinator Marcus Satterfield needs to work into the mix. Look for Oklahoma transfer Austin Stogner to be a key target at tight end for Rattler this fall. At running back, Wake Forest transfer Christian Beal-Smith, Juju McDowell and MarShawn Lloyd form a capable trio. Georgia transfer Lovasea Carroll also is in the mix for snaps.
On paper, the supporting cast could be deeper than it was in ’21. This spring is all about getting all of the new pieces acclimated with Satterfield’s scheme and figuring out the right mix around Rattler for huge production in the fall.
3. Development Up Front
Experience isn’t an issue for the Gamecocks in the trenches for ’22. Seven players who started at least six games last year are back this spring, including center Eric Douglas and guard Jovaughn Gwyn. Also, Jaylen Nichols, Jakai Moore, Tyshawn Wannamaker, Jazston Turnetine and Dylan Wonnum give Beamer plenty of options to mix and match at tackle. Can this group translate experience into production? In SEC games last year, the Gamecocks allowed 20 sacks and averaged 3.5 yards per carry. This spring is the first opportunity to find the right mix and starting group to provide Rattler protection in the fall.
Related: SEC Spring 2022 Power Rankings
4. Restocking the Defensive Front
South Carolina’s defense surrendered more than six yards a play in SEC contests last season, but the return of seven starters and second-year coordinator Clayton White provides optimism for some improvement this fall. Of course, any improvement in the stat column will hinge on how quickly the defense can restock a couple of key voids up front. Kingsley Enagbare (4.5) sacks is the biggest loss in the trenches, but the staff also has to replace Jabari Ellis and Aaron Sterling. White does have talent in place, however. Zacch Pickens, Jordan Burch, Jordan Strachan and Tonka Hemingway make up a solid front of options, with NC State transfer Terrell Dawkins slated to push for time at end. Regardless of which players end up in the starting lineup, improving a leaky rush defense (nearly 200 yards a game allowed in SEC play) and generating more of a pass rush (13 sacks in SEC games) is a priority.
5. Maintaining a Strong Secondary
Pass defense was a strength for Beamer’s team last season, as this unit ranked fourth in the SEC in pass efficiency defense and allowed only one opponent (Georgia) to throw more than 300 yards. The bulk of the two-deep in the secondary is back but safety Cam Foster – a first-team All-SEC selection – will be missed. Cornerback Cam Smith returns as a key cog in the pass defense after earning second-team all-conference honors last season. Darius Rush or Marcellas Dial could man the other corner spot, with David Spaulding a likely candidate to fill the job at nickel. RJ Roderick’s return provides the Gamecocks with an experienced option at safety, with Tyrese Ross likely to battle Central Michigan transfer Devonni Reed to step into the starting role vacated by Foster.
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