By Josh Hyber
On his first day of practice as a sophomore at Opelika (Ala.) High School, Jake Bentley threw a pass into the corner of an end zone that Bulldogs’ coach Erik Speakman thought was a punt. It went so high and shot down at such an angle that Speakman thought it must have been booted.
But it was just a deep pass from the 6-foot-4, 219-pound backup.
That’s the arm Bentley has, and it’s one South Carolina offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon and quarterbacks coach Dan Werner plan to utilize heavily in the Gamecocks’ up-tempo offensive attack this season.
“We want to stretch the defense,” Werner, who’s entering his first season with the Gamecocks, said Thursday when meeting with reporters at Williams-Brice Stadium. “We want to make them understand they have to cover the whole field. That’s going to be a huge part of our offense.”
Werner’s message to his quarterbacks, particularly Bentley, has been simple: With our talented receiving corps, if you just get it out there, they’re probably going to make a play. (Werner has coached college football since 1990, but said SC’s group of receivers is one of the best he’s been around.)
When Werner first began working with the Gamecock quarterbacks after he was hired in January, he admits there was some hesitancy among them to throw deep passes. But the coach has since taught them to read situations and be confident in their throws.
“I think that’s the big thing I’ve been working on, is knowing when to take shots and when not to,” Werner said. “… Any chance we get, depending on down and distance, we’re going to take our shot.”
Werner was asked what makes a good deep ball thrower.
“If he’s really accurate,” he deadpanned. “Recruit good guys who can throw it really good. It’s not like you coach it and say, there’s a certain term that tells [quarterbacks] how to do it. Either you’ve got it or you don’t.
“I feel like our guys have done a good job with it, and with the receiver we have, I think it’s going to put a lot of pressure on the defenses.”
He was then asked if arm strength, feel and vision play a part.
“All of those, obviously,” he said. “You have to have the strength to get it out there, first of all. Again, that’s something when we recruit, when you go out to camps and watch guys, you can see if they can do it. And that’s the guys you go after.”