No Deebo? Or Edwards? A look at the South Carolina pass-catchers in 2020
For 4 consecutive years, Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards took turns leading South Carolina in receiving. That will change this season, but how the receiver position develops is one of the most intriguing aspects of the 2020 season for the Gamecocks, who just named Collin Hill the starting quarterback.
The obvious starting point is Shi Smith, who has been around the block and been a top 3 receiver for the Garnet and Black for 3 seasons. He is the go-to guy this season, although there are younger players growing into dependable positions, and a hot-shot newcomer making waves.
The Gamecocks, after all, have a bit of a “Wide Receiver U.” feel with a host of well-known names among program greats, including Alshon Jeffery, Sidney Rice, Pharoh Cooper, Sterling Sharpe and Kenny McKinley.
New wide receivers coach Joe Cox said Smith is a big-play threat and someone who can score from anywhere. But he also has an added leadership demand to “get the most out of that whole group.”
“I challenged him a lot this camp, really just understanding that it’s his time,” Cox said. “He’s always had somebody with him. He’s always had a Deebo, he’s always had a Bryan Edwards, unbelievable players where he could make a big play, but maybe he wasn’t the guy they were counting on to make every big play. You are the Deebo, you are the Bryan, now you’ve got to prove it to your teammates, you’ve got to prove it to us every single day.”
Penciled in as the No. 2 known commodity is Xavier Legette, who has set an unbelievable goal of 900 receiving yards and 90 catches.
Last year, Legette started 3 games and appeared in 11. He caught 9 passes for 80 yards with a touchdown, and had 4 kickoff returns for 113 yards, a 28.2-yard average.
“It was kind of hard coming in,” he said. “Playing in the SEC, it was harder because everybody is good on good, so got to really work to get open.”
Only 9 receivers at South Carolina have surpassed 900 yards in a season, and Cooper was the last one, in 2015 with 973. No player has reached 90 catches, as Jeffery holds the record at 88 in 2010.
Still, Legette projects to be a big part of South Carolina’s receiver rotation, even if transfer Jalen Brooks gets the NCAA waiver to play immediately this year. The 6-foot, 210-pounder is in the top group in practice alongside Smith and Brooks.
Much is unknown about how new offensive coordinator Mike Bobo will deploy some of these skill players, starting Saturday against Tennessee, but Legette likes the possibilities.
“With his new playbook,” Legette said, “there’s going to be at least two receivers open or a tight end or even the running backs coming out of the backfield.”
The biggest name being talked about this summer for the Gamecocks’ receivers is Jalen Brooks, who transferred from Wingate via Tarleton State in Texas. Brooks is learning his 3rd offense inside of 2 years, and he said this pro-style offense is the most complex.
But Brooks said he had to arrive on campus with the mindset that he belonged with the Gamecocks even though he previously was at a Division II school.
“I had to come in with that mentality, because if I didn’t come in with that mentality, I would have gone out there and pretty much been blown away, and just got pushed to the side,” he said.
When coach Will Muschamp announced Brooks’ arrival, he said Brooks is a big, physical guy who runs well and learns extremely well.
“So in the very short time, he’s made a very favorable impression on our staff,” Muschamp said, and added that Brooks’ family situation makes it favorable that he will play this season. “He has grown a lot since he played in high school as far as his body is concerned. His body has changed tremendously. We know some people that he throws with that all reached out to us about his work ethic, his athleticism, his hand-eye coordination, his ball skills, and his tape is really impressive, and it’s a position where we need some more productive guys and some more dependable guys.”
Brooks’ late addition shines a light on the shortcomings at that position, however, Muschamp recently said two incoming freshmen will be counted on to contribute.
“Right now Rico (Powers) and Ger-Cari (Caldwell) are two guys we plan on playing and plan on contributing for us,” Muschamp said. “Rico’s done some really nice things, he sure has. He’s going to help us on special teams. He’s tough. He’s a guy that can cover kicks, a guy that can block, and a guy that creates a lot of value for himself as a football player because of the physicality he plays with.”