The South Carolina football team is addressing a lack of depth at the running back and edge positions ahead of its 2023 spring game this weekend.
The team lost its top two running backs from 2022 in redshirt sophomore MarShawn Lloyd, who went to the transfer portal, and graduate student Christian Beal-Smith, who departed for the 2023 NFL Draft.
Lloyd recorded 573 rushing yards and nine touchdowns over nine games played in the 2022 season while Beal-Smith had five rushing touchdowns for the Gamecocks last season.
Junior tight end Jaheim Bell, who added 261 yards and three touchdowns for South Carolina's rushing offense, also left through the transfer porter at the end of the year.
With Lloyd, Beal-Smith and Bell out of the picture, sixth-year wide receiver Dakereon Joyner has been taking reps as a running back during the first few weeks of spring practice.
Joyner has been with the program for five years as both a quarterback and wide receiver. He has 442 career receiving yards and three touchdowns as a wideout, but he received the Most Valuable Player award at the 2021 Duke's Mayo Bowl for his work switching back to quarterback. In the game against North Carolina, Joyner threw for 160 yards, completing all nine of his pass attempts, and rushed for 64 yards. Now, he said he is welcoming another chance to show off his versatility.
"I'm embracing the role, spending most of my time at running back right now trying to learn that position," Joyner said. "I'm able to go play receiver whenever I want to, so just right now I'm trying to focus on running back and learn that scheme right now and really just ready to take off with it man. I'm excited."
Redshirt senior running back Mario Anderson transferred into the program in January to accompany Joyner in the running back room while junior running back Juju McDowell has also received significant reps during spring practice.
“I think we’re getting everything out of them and they continue to compete. They're really working hard. Like I said, Juju, Mario and Dakereon (are) doing a nice job working with that top group, and then we’ve got some guys, some younger guys behind them as well that are all getting work,” head coach Shane Beamer said. "It was certainly an area of concern going into spring practice, and I feel a lot better about that group right now.”
New pass rushers are also emerging for the Gamecocks at the edge position as senior defensive lineman Tonka Hemingway recovers from off-season surgery.
Beamer said that all players listed as defensive ends on the roster are working with Sterling Lucas, the defensive ends and outside linebackers coach, to fill in on the edge. In addition to redshirt senior edge rushers Tyreek Johnson and Terrell Dawkins, the group currently includes sophomore edge Bryan Thomas Jr. and sophomore linebacker Donovan Westmoreland.
“(Westmoreland’s) a really versatile guy,” Lucas said. “He played the position in high school, so he kind of understands the position, but he’s definitely buying into the technique, and I’m excited about where Donovan is.”
Lucas also praised true freshman edge Desmond Umeozulu, who came to South Carolina in January, for the progress he's seen since joing the team.
“When we recruit guys, we want guys who love football, and I think he definitely loves football, and he’s willing to do the little things to be successful,” Lucas said. “I’m very excited where he is. He’s still supposed to be in high school, but he’s out there competing. He’s always around the ball.”
The Gamecocks will play their 2023 Garnet & Black Spring Football game in Williams-Brice Stadium at 7 p.m. on Saturday, April 15. Admission is free for all fans.
“(It is) gonna be an amazing environment across the street," Beamer said. "It’s the first time we’ve been back in Williams-Brice Stadium since the Tennessee game last season. We know how awesome that was, so really, it’s been too long, Gamecock Nation. And certainly looking forward to seeing all of you back in Williams-Brice Stadium next Saturday night.”