By Josh Hyber | Photo by Allen Sharpe
South Carolina quarterbacks coach Dan Werner attended one of Ryan Hilinski’s high school games and noticed more than the quarterback’s talent and charisma.
After it, he realized “about half” Hilinski’s teammates, including many of the starters at key positions, were injured and did not play.
“But [Ryan] kept battling, and when I would talk to him, and obviously I talked to him a lot, he never complained about it and never brought it up,” Werner said.
“That’s the kind of guy you want to have as your quarterback and leader.”
When that will be remains in question, as Werner reiterated Thursday what South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp has said multiple times this spring: The Gamecocks’ number two quarterback position is still up for grabs.
Werner has been pleased with the progression of his quarterbacks this spring — including incumbent starter Jake Bentley and reserves Dakereon Joyner, Jay Urich and Hilinski — but said the team is “not even close” to naming a primary backup.
“I’m glad that they all did good,” Werner said. “So now it makes it tougher on us.”
With Michael Scarnecchia graduated, it will be the first time since 2016 that the Gamecocks don’t have a veteran number two.
Werner spoke on the quarterback competition as well as several other topics for 20 minutes on Thursday. He talked about the growth his quarterbacks have made this spring and what he’s looking for in any quarterback: someone who protects the football, can game manage, get first downs and get the right play called.
And not throw interceptions.
“We had too many [last year],” Werner said. “That’s all I know.”
Here’s what he said specifically about four of his quarterbacks:
Werner noted how Bentley joked earlier this week about being the oldest player in the quarterback room. For three years there has always been at least one player older than him. Not he’s the oldest.
“He’s a pro. He’s still going to work hard and do everything he’s supposed to do,” Werner said.
The 6-4, 220-pound Bentley completed 61.7 percent of his passes for 3,171 yards and 27 touchdowns. But he also threw 14 interceptions.
“We’ve done a better job, in my mind, but unless we go through the spring with zero turnovers, it’s not where we want to be,” Werner said. “But I think we’ve done a lot better job with it.”
Werner said Bentley, who he called a self-motivator, has become a better decision maker. He also touched on the 510-yard throwing performance Bentley had last season against Clemson.
“Jake obviously executed the game plan very well,” Werner said. “I thought the receivers did a great job making plays for him, so it was one of those games where everything sort of just came together.”
Werner and the 6-1, 205-pound Joyner have worked a bit on Joyner’s throwing motion, but the quarterback’s coach doesn’t want to change too much with the dynamic Joyner.
“He’s come back and he’s throwing the ball really well now,” Werner said.
“I think he’s done a great job. When he came in, he was swimming because the offense was so different from what he had run in his career. Just the fact we were asking him to do a lot of different things he had never done, hurt him obviously.
“But again, he’s a guy that wants to do so well. He works as hard as anybody. He’s in there watching film and studying the playbook. And he knows it and has had a really good spring so far.”
Werner mentioned Joyner’s running ability.
“It’s all about going through your progressions. I think he can run, so you don’t want to take that away from him,” the coach said. “So we give him his progressions. … When everyone’s covered, then you take off running.
“… I would never call a pass play and say just take off running. Again, I want him to read his progressions and run when he has to.”
Hilinski, a 6-4, 232-pound, four-star quarterback from Orange Lutheran High School in California, was a popular topic of conversation. Hilinski passed for 2,771 yards and 29 touchdowns as a senior and has won numerous awards, including a National High School Player of the Year Award.
“As soon as he signed and we were allowed to start sending him playbook material, he was begging for it,” Werner said. “And you can tell he’s worked hard on it. I’m pleased with how he’s progressed.”
“He’s got a really quick release, made good decisions and he’s really accurate,” Werner said. “Of course you never know, once he gets here, if he’s going to pick up the offense and all that stuff, but he has. … He’s done a great job. He studied really hard.”
Werner commended the 6-5, 205-pound Urich’s speed.
“Jay is really athletic. He’s actually the fastest one out of all of them,” the coach said. “We put these GPS systems on them during practice, and there’s been some practices when he’s the fastest one on our team. He’s really athletic. He knows the offense. I think he’s come a long way too.”