By Ryan Catoe
There have been some talented wideouts that have graced the field at Williams-Brice. Sterling Sharpe, Robert Brooks, Kenny McKinley, Sidney Rice and more recently Alshon Jeffery. All went on to have NFL careers, with McKinley’s career being tragically cut short. This list is not including other receivers who spent at least some time in the NFL on a practice squad or active roster. Bruce Ellington, Pharoh Cooper, Ace Sanders, KJ Brent, Damiere Byrd, and Tori Gurley just to name several. Many analysts are saying the team is light at the wideout position at Carolina this year. However, I see a group that could absolutely destroy any expectations the national analysts and even Gamecock nation could have for them.
The issue most people see with this group is the lack of experience. This is noted as the top 3 receivers on the depth chart post-spring ball is as follows: Deebo Samuel, Jamari Smith and Bryan Edwards. These three young players alone are enough to give the team some excitement and hope not just for the future but for this season and seasons to come. And don’t forget about the remaining guys: Terry Googer, Christian Owens, Matrick Belton
Jamari Smith has been with the club for several years but has selflessly bounced around from position to position to help fit the team’s needs. He came to Carolina as a running back from Jacksonville Beach’s Fletcher High School. I was fortunate enough to catch a couple of his high school games…let me tell you, the kid is special with the football in his hands. He will take over at the slot position. After selflessly changing from position to position to help fill the team’s needs, it seems he finally found one that could really allow him to showcase his talents. He could lead to some explosive plays out of the slot position to allow for more big plays from Deebo and Edwards on the outside.
Bryan Edwards is a standout 4-star freshman receiver from Conway, SC. With a larger frame of 6’3 and 208 pounds he will give us some physicality on the edge that we have been lacking since Alshon left. He does also have enough speed at his size, 4.53 40-yard dash, to create some vertical challenges to opposing defenses. Edwards is benefiting from a growing trend of athletes registering for spring courses and being able to participate in spring drills and camp. You can already see a chemistry brewing between him and fellow freshman quarterback Brandon McIlwain. It was very evident in the beautiful touchdown pass between the two in the 2016 Garnet and Black spring game.
The man of the hour, the beast that will be unleashed on the southeast this year, Deebo Samuel. The physical mismatch he gives is an instant benefit to the younger QB corps that will take the field this year. He is a solid 6’0 and 205 pounds and gives the offense a viable threat to fend off the physical press corners and making things happen when routes fail. He has the ability to be the go to guy on an offense that is desperately looking for a play maker. Samuel has shown flashes when he was able to get healthy. Go back and watch the tape of the 2015 Clemson game. He seemed to always get open, and when there was coverage he was still able to find a way to move the chains and make the tough catch. Keep in mind that was against a very strong and formidable defense of Clemson last year. Good things just seem to happen when he gets involved with the game plan. He has had the off-season to get healthy and another summer to get a better grasp on the position and offense. This should allow the raw talented player to play the game faster, and to pick up on defensive keys.
Gone are the 2000 yards receiving and 17 touchdowns that Pharoh Cooper provided over the last two years. Gone is the player that could turn a 5-yard slant into a 90-yard touchdown. But it also means is that an opportunity has arrived. An opportunity waiting for a Deebo, Edwards or Smith to add their name to the long list of Gamecocks receivers who have found success not just in the SEC, but in the NFL. The time is now, and the opportunity is theirs. Can Samuel live up to the #1 on his chest? I believe that not only he can, but that he will. Gamecock nation…get ready for what could be a season full of growing pains, but also flashes of future greatness. The Spurrier legacy has ended and we are now in the Coach Boom era.
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