South Carolina offensive line coach Eric Wolford used the same six words when talking about his position group on Thursday that Gamecock head coach Will Muschamp has used to talk about the team’s secondary:
“The five best players will play.”
“The five best guys will start,” Wolford said when meeting with reporters. “… It’s an ongoing battle. No one’s ever guaranteed anything when you play up front. You know, it can change before the first game.”
The coach praised his group’s versatility, spoke about its leaders and also commented on its depth.
“At the end of the day, most teams, you’ve got seven or eight guys that you feel like can play,” he said. “It was no different [when I coached] in the NFL. Seven guys dressed on gameday. If five start, you have to have two guys that can play a lot of spots.
“… You always make sure you have your best players on the field and you don’t have a weak link somewhere. … I think anybody that’s out there needs a complete understanding of everything we want to do offensively
“... And you have to do it at a high level.”
Wolford must replace two starters (Dennis Daley, Zack Bailey) and two experienced backups (Blake Camper, Malik Young).
“The ability is there, and I’m excited about that. We are more athletic and more powerful than we’ve been, but we have got to find that best five and even that six, seven and eight,” Gamecock head coach Will Muschamp said earlier this fall.
Here are six takeaways from what Wolford told reporters on Thursday:
1) Sadarius Hutcherson is a freak … and solid as heck
Those around the South Carolina program don’t call 6-4, 320-pound junior Sadarius Hutcherson “Freak” for no reason. A two-year starter, Hutcherson has moved from right guard to left tackle.
Hutcherson was a 240-pound tight end and defensive end coming out of high school, but in his first year at South Carolina gained more than 75 pounds and started four games on the offensive line as a redshirt freshman.
“Sadarius Hutcherson is solid as heck,” Wolford said.
2) A starting right guard candidate is all but set in stone
After South Carolina’s intra-squad scrimmage Saturday, Muschamp mentioned one standout, 6-4, 315-pound sophomore Eric Douglas, as someone who likely earned himself the team’s starting right guard spot.
Wolford confirmed that Thursday.
“Eric’s a guy that’s tremendous to have in your corner,” Wolford said. “He can play every spot. He can play backup tackle. He can play backup center. He can start at the guard position. … We move him around a bunch during practice. He’s the backup center.
“So he’s got a lot of responsibilities. And that’s a compliment to him. He’s been here in our program for two years and worked hard. He’s developed his body and done the things he needs to do away from the building to become a good football player.”
The coach mentioned South Carolina players were tested in January and that Douglas was “embarrassed” by some of his results.
“[And then] we saw a dramatic change,” Wolford said. “A change in his body and doing the things he needed to do.
“We’re seeing the result of that.”
The coach continued.
“He’s obviously very smart,” he said. “Two, he can snap the ball. And he’s got a complete understanding of the offense as far as what we’re looking for from a protection standpoint, whether it’s being at guard or tackle or at center making the correct protection call.
“He had a complete understanding and loves the game of football.”
3) Donell Stanley is without question the leader of the offensive line
Stanley, a 6-3, 325-pound sixth-year senior, has started three seasons for the Gamecocks and will move from center back to guard.
“He’s huge. He’s huge. Donell Stanley has got great leadership qualities,” Wolford said. “He’s a great guy away from the building, does things the right way. He’s a great role model for all our young players and that’s what we expect of him.
“He’s a pleasure to coach and we’re fortunate that he came back to give us another year.”
He’s also versatile.
“Donell can easily go to center and hold that down,” the coach said. “He’s proven that in SEC play, and that’s a viable option.
“He’s critical,” Muschamp said. “He’s an outstanding example for our players every day with the way he goes about his business, the way he works, the way he approaches the game, the way he approaches practice, the weight room. He's a great example for our young offensive linemen to see how you do things the right way.”
4) Dylan Wonnum has taken the next step
Seven games into his college career, Dylan Wonnum took over SC’s starting right guard spot and never looked back. The 6-5, 310-pounder started seven games as a true freshman and earned SEC All-Freshman honors.
Wolford mentioned the now sophomore second when answering a question about which offensive lineman have impressed him this fall.
“I think Dylan Wonnum is much better than he was,” the coach said. “ … As far as an athletic and quickness standpoint and understanding the game.”
5) Hank Manos has progressed
The first question posed to Wolford was about the redshirt-freshman Manos, a 6-4, 290-pounder from Chapin who started for the Gamecocks in the Belk Bowl last season and seems to have one the starting center job over junior Chandler Farrell.
“Hank’s done a good job,” the coach said. “ … By the end of the year he started the bowl and did some good things in the bowl game and obviously that’s carried over. He practices against good guys here every day, so we get a chance to gauge where he’s at as far as an SEC-type lineman.”
Wolford noted how Manos’s experience as a wrestler in high school has helped him on the offensive line.
“You see it a lot of the times when he’s matched up with a guy that’s a lot bigger than him, he just has a natural understanding of leverage,” Wolford said.
6) Who are the team’s sixth, seventh and eighth offensive lineman?
Eight offensive linemen started for the Gamecocks last season, so Wolford knows depth is important.
“I don’t think you’re ever confident, as far as having enough guys,” he said. “I’ve never been anywhere where you feel like you have enough guys. But sometimes those guys will have to pop in there for whatever reason and they’ll surprise you. Hopefully that’s the case as we continue to grow.”
Wolford mentioned 6-2, 305-pound redshirt freshman Jovaughn Gwyn, someone who has gotten reps as a backup guard.
“Jovaughn’s done some good things the last couple of days,” Wolford said. “… I think he’s doing a better job at just having his eyes in the right place. A lot of times when you’re a young player it’s about having a complete understanding of what we’re trying to do schematically and having your eyes in the right place.
“That way, when you see things, you can trigger and do what we need you to do, as far as making adjustments on the fly.”
He also mentioned 6-5, 295-pounder Jakai Moore and 6-5, 320-pounder Jaylen Nichols.
“It’s not a question of physical ability with any of those guys,” Wolford said. “The thing is, is consistency. Things are moving at a faster pace than it ever has for them. And having urgency. Just being casual is not going to get the job done. You have to be urgent when you see things.”