6 offseason priorities for South Carolina in 2021
Shane Beamer has methodically eased into his role as a new coach at South Carolina. The former Oklahoma assistant has slowly put together a coaching staff, with key roles like defensive coordinator still pending.
There was also a fairly light recruiting class during the Early Signing Period, and the Gamecocks have already seen some players enter the transfer portal as the new program identity takes shape.
But what are Beamer’s and the program’s priorities going into the offseason?
1. The program needs to take on Beamer’s personality
Whatever else is said or remembered about the Will Muschamp era, the players played hard for him, and especially at the end, when tight end Nick Muse even said he would take a bullet for his coach.
Beamer had loads of support from former South Carolina lettermen and star alumni like Marcus Lattimore, who lobbied the administration to hire Beamer. Since culture wasn’t a major issue under Muschamp, Beamer will, in spring practice and beyond, need to establish an identity that is different than Muschamp’s yet still successful.
Beamer obviously is a players’ coach, but how will that translate to more victories? It has been well-documented that Beamer has been around several successful coaches. Now it is up to him to reveal what type of coach he’ll be, and exactly which traits he will share in Columbia.
2. Upgrade the wide receiver production
OrTre Smith and and Georgia Tech transfer Ahmarean Brown are 2 key figures in this puzzle.
Smith may be a bit forgotten since he had a kneecap injury in his sophomore season, then opted out before the 2020 season began, citing the pandemic. Presuming he’s healthy, Smith could return to the form he showed as the top-ranked high school player in the state of South Carolina when he signed in 2017. After all, he’s 6-foot-4 and started 10 games as a true freshman. Xavier Legette is another option, although he, too, has battled injuries.
The Gamecocks can’t afford another season like 2020 where Shi Smith was the lone consistent target.
3. Develop Zacch Pickens and Jordan Burch into forces
The 6-3, 310-pound Pickens has begun to round into the 5-star form many expected of him coming out of high school, and similar reviews can be said for fellow 5-star Burch. Now they need a true breakout season.
Both flashed against Tennessee and Florida early in the season, and Tonka Hemingway added to some decent production from the defensive line. The bottom line is, whether it has been Javon Kinlaw or Jadeveon Clowney, the Gamecocks have proven they can have a disruptive force on the defensive line. For much of this past season, Kingsley Enagbare was at or near the top of the SEC in sacks, and he finished with 6 in 8 games, which was still 5th in the SEC even though he played 2 to 4 games fewer than the leaders.
For South Carolina to be a contender in the SEC East, they need at least 1 and likely 2 or 3 defensive linemen to have productive seasons.
4. Coaching staff needs to pay dividends
Because of the struggles on defense, it has been difficult in recent years to give much credit to the defensive staff under Muschamp.
Mike Bobo’s addition brought more dynamic play-calling, and the team’s first 1,000-yard rusher since 2013. Now that Bobo is off to Auburn, there is a cleaner break from the Muschamp era. It’s time to turn to Marcus Satterfield, who has worked with Beamer at Tennessee as a graduate assistant and been an offensive coordinator at Tennessee Tech and Temple. Beamer has already delivered a fresh coaching face in Erik Kimrey, a successful high school coach in the Palmetto State who returns to his alma mater for his 1st stint as a collegiate coach. Another interesting addition is Pete Lembo, who has head coaching experience and has been known as a special teams guru. His units have consistently ranked among the top in the nation, from Maryland to Rice and Memphis.
Beamer needs to deliver a blend of coaches and motivators to get the program going.
5. Rebuilding the secondary
At times in the past 2 seasons, the secondary was one of the best units on the team, if not the best against Auburn in 2020 and Georgia in 2019, which fueled those improbable and impressive wins.
Beamer certainly knows the value of a strong secondary’s contribution to a successful program, since he helped recruit Stephon Gilmore to South Carolina. But this is a unit that will miss NFL-bound cornerbacks Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu, along with Jackson State transfer Shilo Sanders. Then there was Jammie Robinson and John Dixon, who each entered the transfer portal, and Dixon announced he would play at Penn State.
Leaving aside replacing talent that will be difficult to replace, Beamer will need to re-stock the roster simply to develop depth. There are some options available, including oft-injured Jaylin Dickerson, Cam Smith, Jaylan Foster and Joey Hunter. And Beamer has added 3 recruits since he took over. But he needs to find high-end talent to fill the gaps of those departures.
6. Build recruiting momentum within the footprint
Beamer noted during his early public introductions that even when he moved on from the South Carolina staff as an assistant, he kept the area as a recruiting responsibility at future jobs at Georgia and Oklahoma.
The Gamecocks missed out on the top 7 prospects in South Carolina in the 2021 class, and with Clemson recruiting more nationally, that’s a glaring omission. Clemson has already picked up 2 commitments among the top 5 prospects in 2022, and an interesting recruit remains — Drew Bobo, a 3-star offensive lineman who holds an offer from the Gamecocks, though his recruitment could be complicated as his dad is no longer the offensive coordinator. The Gamecocks need to lock down the state better, and build on what has historically been a pound-for-pound strong talent area.