Dan Werner knows quarterbacks.
South Carolina’s second-year quarterbacks coach has worked at previous stints with Heisman Trophy winner Gino Torretta, Ken Dorsey, Chad Kelly and Bo Wallace.
The veteran — who has coached at both the college and high school level since 1983 — likes what sees in his current crop of Gamecock QBs: senior Jake Bentley, redshirt-freshman Dakereon Joyner and true freshman Ryan Hilinski.
“I’ve been pleased with all three of my guys,” Werner said Friday.
The coach talked about the battle between Joyner and Hilinski for the backup quarterback position, what all three quarterbacks improved on over the summer and what the Gamecock offense can look like as a whole in year two of coordinator Bryan McClendon’s offense.
Werner emphasized SC’s number one emphasis this fall being to protect the football.
“If we protect the ball, we feel like we have enough playmakers to score points on offense and we’re good enough to win games on defense,” he said.
Here are six takeaways from what Werner told reporters on Friday:
1) Who’s Bentley’s backup? Well, it’s still early.
Werner mentioned he has been impressed with both Joyner and Hilinski (see below), but he wouldn’t comment on the Gamecocks’ depth chart.
“Both of them have played really hard and they’re protecting the football and doing everything we asked,” he said. “We look at the whole body of work. If one guys has a little bit better one thing, if he were the guy, we would move to that, and vice versa. But we are running our offense and they have to master it.”
When asked about the ultimate decision — who wins and when the decision is made — the coach deferred.
Said Werner, “That’s totally up to coach [Will] Muschamp.”
2) Joyner is a quarterback and his throwing has gotten ‘a lot better’
Werner was asked a few times about ways to get Joyner — the 6-1, 205-pounder from Charleston — onto the field, even without an injury to Bentley, Werner didn’t mince words.
“In my mind, he’s a quarterback,” the coach said. “ … If coach decided we’ve got another plan for whatever reason, I don’t know. In my mind, he’s a quarterback.”
Werner, as well as Bentley, complimented the improvement Joyner has been in his throwing ability. Joyner has taken to the team’s quarterback drill where it throws into different level holes on a mesh net from different distances.
“His throwing has gotten a lot better, his accuracy,” Werner said. “That’s something he has worked really hard on.”
3) Bentley is as hard of a worker as Werner has ever been around
Werner has worked with star quarterbacks from Miami (Fla.), Ole Miss, Alabama and UNLV, but he named the 6-4, 220-pound Bentley the hardest worked he has ever been around.
“He knows [the offense] inside and out. He studies as hard as anybody,” Werner said. “From the day I got here, he was all in and wanted to know exactly what to do. He’s in here asking me questions and I have to tell him, ‘You’ve got to go home.’”
“ … He’s always had a sense of urgency. He’s that type of guy, everything he does is going to be full speed.”
4) Ryan Hilinski has ‘a much better grasp’ on the Gamecock offense
The 6-3, 230-pound Hilinski has impressed Werner as well, both on the field and off the field.
“He has changed his body. Coming out of high school, he probably didn’t lift a whole lot compared to what he is doing here. He has lost weight and gained a lot of muscle mass,” the coach said.
“Football-wise, you can tell he has a much better grasp. He knows it inside and out, just like the other guys do. For a younger guy, it’s always translating from the meeting room to the field, and I’ve been very pleased with how that has happened.”
5) Werner wants Parker White to kick extra points, not field goals
Werner emphasized something Muschamp has talked several times during the offseason about: South Carolina needs to improve its efficiency in the red zone. And not just kicking field goals.
“I look at how many times we scored touchdowns,” he said. “And we weren’t close to where we want to be.”
The coach said the team that led the nation in red zone efficiency had almost a 70 percent clip, a number the Gamecock offense is shooting for.
“I think, for us, if you look at all the stats, a lot of teams that are really running teams, obviously are better at it. For us, we’ve got to get better at running the football down there. But, we are the type of team that, if you load the box, we’ve got to be able to pull it and throw it. So, if that’s the case, we’ve got to make plays.”
6) ‘You can always go faster.’
Werner said the South Carolina offense played close to as fast as it can and wants, but that it can still go faster.
“If the ref is having to sprint to get set up, we’re going fast enough,” he said. “If we’re sitting there waiting, while he’s got his hand on the ball, that’s a good thing. … We were [close to as fast as we wanted to be] a lot, but we have a lot of different tempos. So it’s not like we’re going to do that every single play.”
Werner also complimented McClendon.
“He obviously did a great job last year. I feel like, as an offense, we’re just going to keep on getting better.”