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Answering the questions left by Gamecocks' preseason depth chart

Ahead of Thursday’s SEC Media Days appearance, Will Muschamp released South Carolina’s preseason depth chart over the weekend, putting fans and analysts alike into a frenzy.

For a lot of teams, the depth chart is a pretty big announcement, as it provides a lot of insight into the upcoming season. Under Muschamp, however, that hasn’t been the case for the Gamecocks.

The latest two-deep didn’t include many surprises, which is fine. However, it didn’t really answer any questions. Muschamp didn’t give away which way he’s leaning on some position battles, listing three first-team running backs, including A.J. Turner, which seems odd, as Rico Dowdle clearly beat out Turner midway through the 2016 season.

Let’s see what kind of answers there are to the questions we still have after the depth chart release.

Will the re-shuffled offensive line be better?

Zack Bailey was one of the SEC’s best offensive lineman last season, despite playing for one of the conference’s worst front fives. Bailey, who started every game in 2016 at left guard, has moved to right tackle, taking over for Malik Young. Young is moving across to left tackle, filling the void of Mason Zandi, the only senior from last year’s group.

The center and right guard positions remain filled by Alan Knott and Cory Helms, a pair of fifth-year seniors who struggled at times last season. Experience should be a big help, but the jury is still out on the linemen who contributed to the Gamecocks 41 sacks allowed in 2016.

Donell Stanley will take over at left guard after a 2016 season in which he played just seven snaps, injuring his ankle on South Carolina’s first series against Vanderbilt. A guard in high school, where he became a top 300 recruit, Stanley will be back to his natural position after working as a right tackle last summer.

With Stanley back in his normal position, four returning starters and more experience, the Gamecocks should be better this season after allowing the most sacks in the conference in 2016. The biggest question mark may be Bailey, who was stellar last season, but takes on a new challenge in 2017.

Who’s the starting running back?

Rico Dowdle stole the show last year after getting a chance to play, averaging just under 85 yards per game and relegating A.J. Turner to backup duties. Dowdle is fighting for his job again though, as North Carolina transfer Ty’Son Williams is eligible this season, and he’s gotten rave reviews from players and coaches.

Muschamp said Williams runs with a similar one-cut style to Dowdle, and quarterback Jake Bentley described Williams as an explosive, angry runner.

Williams broke out during the spring game, turning 11 carries into 83 yards and a touchdown in his first public showing since his freshman year in Chapel Hill. Williams, the No. 22 back in the 2015 class, had just 19 carries for 57 yards during his one year in blue and white.

Turner isn’t expected to be much of a factor in the competition, as the sophomore had fewer carries than Dowdle in six of the final seven games of 2016, receiving zero touches against UMass and Florida.

Dowdle likely has the edge here over Williams, thanks to three 125-plus yardage performances during the latter half of last season, but Williams’ skill set makes him a strong candidate for a healthy helping of carries, if not a few starts.

How will the new guys factor in?

The Gamecocks will start practice July 31, so only the early enrollees are listed on this depth chart. Of the six early enrollees, only two cracked the two-deep, with OrTre Smith listed as a second-team receiver and Jaylin Dickerson a second-team safety.

South Carolina returns nearly all of last year’s roster, so it’s unlikely that the Gamecocks will lead the nation in true freshman starters again, but top recruits like Jamyest Williams and Shi Smith should find the field this fall.

Williams, the team’s top recruit for the 2017 cycle, figures to factor in as a cornerback fairly quickly, as Rashad Fenton is listed as a starter despite well-documented struggles last season. Smith is facing a far more crowded position group, but his versatility should be enough to get him some playing time, possibly ahead of more experienced players who haven’t produced, like Terry Googer, currently listed as a starter in three-wide sets.

As the Gamecocks continue to attempt to rebuild the pass rush that was a staple in the three 11-win seasons, defensive linemen Javon Kinlaw and MJ Webb could play immediately, if either proves to be disruptive in practice. Kinlaw is a JUCO transfer, and Webb enrolled early, so both have a leg up on most of the 2017 class.

Will we see another depth chart through the season?

From the opener against Vanderbilt through the regular season finale at Clemson, Muschamp’s depth chart didn’t change a single time, continuing to list Donell Stanley as a starter while he nursed an ankle injury all season and listing three first-team quarterbacks all year long.

It’s possible we could get another depth chart before the Gamecocks take the field Sept. 2, but watching the games will likely be the best indication of who’s playing, just like last season.



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