Running the football will be a huge point of emphasis for South Carolina and new offensive coordinator Mike Bobo when the Gamecocks return to practice to prepare for the 2020 season.
While the Gamecocks have some young, talented running backs, it all starts up front, where Bobo and head coach Will Muschamp believe they have a strong and improving offensive line.
Bobo singled out the offensive line for its play during spring practice and Muschamp said recently, “I think our offensive line has been the best it’s been since we’ve been here.”
The Gamecocks lost only one offensive lineman off last season’s team — sixth-year senior and three-year starter Donell Stanley. They return four starters, plus four other players who got extensive playing time last season. The depth and experience has created intense competition across the offensive line.
“I’ve been really pleased with our line of scrimmage up front,” Bobo said. “I think there is eight guys back that have at least started a game so there is a lot of experience up front and they are doing a nice job. … Those guys are competing every day to stay with the first team.”
Depth at tackle has allowed Hutcherson to move from left tackle back to his more natural position of left guard. Jovaughn Gwyn and Jordan Rhodes, who both started last season, are competing at right guard. Tackle Dylan Wonnum, who made the SEC All-Freshman team two years ago, returns after hip surgery and is competing with Jakai Moore and Jaylen Nichols, who made starts last year, and junior-college transfer Jazston Turnetine, a 6-7, 330-pound behemoth who has looked good at left tackle.
The only question mark is at center, where Eric Douglas and Hank Manos are competing with freshmen Vincent Murphy and Trae Jones. Manos made one start at center last year while Douglas was a key backup at multiple positions. Gwyn may also get a look at center when practice resumes.
Bobo and Muschamp have been impressed with Turnetine, Moore (6-5, 310) and Nichols (6-5, 320), who have been working at tackle while Wonnum recovers from hip surgery. All three have the perfect blend of size and athleticism at tackle. Turnetine, a junior-college All-American last season, has been particularly impressive.
“All three have the size at the position you want … but you watch him in the offseason program, you watch his lower-body flexibility, you watch his hips, you watch his change of direction with his feet, he is extremely impressive moving around,” Muschamp said. “All three guys are bright, all three guys can learn anything you want 'em to learn.”
Hutcherson, who skipped the NFL Draft to return for his senior season, has been impressed with Turnetine’s athleticism.
“For a guy who is that big, he’s very fast,” he said. “[He’s got] athleticism, power. He came from JUCO, so you never know. But just the way he comes to work everyday, it’s good to see.”
Hutcherson (6-4, 320) has taken over leadership of the group after the graduation of Stanley, his former roommate. He liked what he saw during spring practice from offensive coach Eric Wolford’s unit.
“Everybody has been working. Wolf is doing a great job moving people around,” he said. “Everybody is looking pretty good.”
The group has to step up, he said, after last year’s 8-4 season when the offense struggled.
“We have a lot of motivation,” he said. “We have to come here every day and fix the little things. Last year we didn’t fix the little things; this year that’s what we are going to do.”