South Carolina spent most of the 2012 season focusing on their smaller receivers. During the course of the year, players like Bruce Ellington, Ace Sanders and Damiere Byrd all had their moments to shine. In particular, Ellington and Sanders became the dominant receivers for South Carolina.
Sanders has since moved on to the NFL hoping to be drafted during this year's draft. The spring practice depth chart now has Damiere Byrd, Bruce Ellington and Nick Jones as the starting three receivers for the Gamecocks. All three are capable of producing big plays with Ellington and Byrd the more dynamic of three with their speed and agility while Jones is the steady veteran who seemingly can make any catch. Jones has reportedly had a strong winter in the weight room as has Byrd. Both players are certainly ready to step up and fill the void of losing Ace Sanders.
The Gamecocks are hoping this spring will see the emergence of one of their taller receivers. There are a few receivers standing 6-foot-1 or taller that they hope will become that jump ball, big play receiving threat they haven't had since Alshon Jeffery was on campus.
The main three candidates are Shaq Roland, Shamier Jeffery and Kwinton Smith. All three have shown glimpses in their short time on campus but all have yet to had a significant impact on the Gamecock football program. All three hope to change that this spring.
Jeffery is the eldest of the three having enrolled in 2011. He redshirted that season after showing promise in fall camp. In 2012, Jeffery failed to crack the wide receiver rotation and only playing in three games - East Carolina, Arkansas and Michigan - but didn't log any stats from those games. A big problem with Jeffery has been his work ethic. There's been cases where the effort level wasn't quite there. Well, apparently, he has changed his ways this offseason. Jeffery has become more diligent in doing work off the field in order to better prepare himself for the upcoming season. The physical attributes are there. Now, it appears that the mental side of the game is there as well. It could be good news for the Gamecocks.
Roland came in with a lot of promise after earning the Mr. Football award in the state of South Carolina. After being named a Parade All-American, it appeared that the freshman would come right in and fill the role of Alshon Jeffery as the jump ball receiver. Early through the 2012 fall practices, he was making that comparison stick. Nearly every single practice and scrimmage saw a highlight-reel catch from Roland. Things were looking up but something didn't click come game time and Roland found himself sitting on the sidelines. Like Jeffery, it appears the work ethic wasn't quite there with Roland. He was used to getting by in high school on his physical gifts and wasn't putting in the effort needed to succeed in major college football. The reports this offseason have been mixed at times. Roland initially seemed to struggle during winter conditioning but then would seemingly pick it up and be a completely different player. Things appear on the rise for Roland and the opportunity to be a big time receiving threat for South Carolina is there for the taking.
Smith is a redshirt freshman wide receiver that has that tall, lanky receiver look with speed attached to it. He's a player that was a highly-rated four-star recruit out of high school and can bring a big play ability to the receiver position. He's got the height that's needed for the big catch, but he's also got a good bit of speed behind him. He gave the coaches something to think about over the course of last season and they nearly pulled his redshirt. They wisely, though, saved him for the season and will get the chance to get several good years out of Smith. If he can show he has knowledge of the playbook this spring, he'll likely put himself in great position to earn a lot of playing time in the fall.
South Carolina has a lot of nice, young talent at the wide receiver position. With two talented quarterbacks on the roster, these players will have some big opportunities this fall to make a dent. This spring, they'll get the chance to show just what they can do on the field.