The offense is dominated by 13 juniors and seniors, while the defense that has been a work in progress all camp has 10 sophomores and four true or redshirt freshmen.
“On offense there is some critical experience,” Gamecocks coach Jack Crowe said Wednesday. “You’ve got a majority look when you’re looking at offense, but you’ve got a way minority look at experience on defense.”
There really aren’t any surprises among the starters on offense — fifth-year senior Marques Ivory is listed at quarterback ahead of Coty Blanchard, and Washaun Ealey and DaMarcus James are the starting backfield. But defensively, if the depth chart holds through the opener, Ashland product Ben Endress, Mikel Whittier and Caleb Lawrence all will be making their first career starts.
Two true freshmen have cracked the two-deep — running back Troymaine Pope of Anniston and cornerback Jermaine Hough; both are listed as backups. Several others are expected to be play significant roles — like Australian punter Hamish MacInnes and linebacker Blake Glaze — even though they’re not listed on the two-deep.
“From the day he got here he did nothing like he hadn’t been on the field before,” Crowe said of Pope. “I give a lot of credit to him as a person and the peer group he found. He tied himself to the right thing when he got here.”
On Tuesday, The Star reported the Gamecocks made five position changes coming out of the weekend scrimmage designed to make their defense faster. Then on Wednesday, they made another.
Redshirt freshman Adam Wright became the second player this week to switch sides of the ball — moving from backup right guard to backup nose — due to an unspecified injury to true freshman Martez House.
House is one of three players expected to miss “substantial” time — perhaps the season — for undisclosed medical reasons. The others are freshman wide receiver Markis Merrill, who has had an impressive camp, and senior linebacker Nick Johnson, who had 30 tackles and four sacks a year ago.
Players are given medical release forms when they arrive in the program and many apparently have declined to allow any medical information to be disclosed.
The loss of Merrill opens the possibility for true freshmen Telvin Brown and Dalton Screws of Wellborn to make a run at the team’s sixth receiver spot.
The move of Wright slotted Tristian Hardin into the right guard spot, but there are still decisions being made as to the proper spots for all 10 linemen. The projected starting offensive line has a combined 56 career starts among them, anchored by preseason OVC picks Tori Mobley (this season) and Odie Rush (last season).
“We’re molding clay and we’re malleable,” Crowe said. “The good thing is we’re not bothered a whole lot by change.
“The way our schedule starts out we’re going to have some trying times; let’s go ahead and face it. We’re going to have our tails tested. Arkansas is No. 10 in the country and Chattanooga, I don’t know where they were picked in the Southern Conference, but they were No. 1 in every defensive category. That’s not a leadoff into getting your confidence.”
SE - Kevyn Cooper, 6-1, 197, Sr.; Trey Smith, 6-5, 220, Jr.
LT - Odie Rush, 6-3, 292, Sr.; Johnny Ubi, 6-6, 302, So.
LG - Blake Burks, 6-2, 310, So.; Colt Kennedy, 6-6, 300, Jr.
C - Max Holcombe, 6-3, 271, So.; Preston Hatcher, 6-4, 290, So.
RG - Tori Mobley, 6-3, 280, Sr.; Tristian Hardin, 6-6, 291, So.
RT - Tarik Milner, 6-3, 280, So.; Taylor Johnstone, 6-3, 295, Jr.
TE - Denzell Cheeks, 6-6, 215, Sr.; Gavin Ellis, 6-6, 230, Jr.
FL - Alan Bonner, 5-11, 168, Sr.; Gabriel Chambers, 5-10, 157, So.
QB - Marques Ivory, 6-1, 235, Sr.; Coty Blanchard, 6-0, 185, Jr.
A-Bk - Washaun Ealey, 5-11, 215, Sr.; Troymaine Pope, 5-9, 198, Fr.
B-Bk - DeMarcus James, 5-10, 220, So.; Jerry Slota, 6-3, 240, Jr.
CB - Rashod Byers, 5-8, 170, So.; Jermaine Hough, 5-9, 163, Fr.
CB - Francis Duncan, 5-11, 167, Sr.; Denzel Bynum, 5-11, 160, So.
SS - Pierre Warren, 6-1, 195, So.; Keginald Harris, 6-3, 200, Sr.
FS - Robert Gray, 5-11, 195, So.; Brandon Bender, 5-9, 165, Fr.
OLB - James Powell, 6-1, 210, Jr.; Dustin Gayton, 6-1, 225, So.
MLB - Ben Endress, 6-1, 200, So.; Brenton Tolson, 6-0, 195, Jr.
WLB - Rashad Smith, 6-1, 210, Jr.; Jamaal Johnson, 6-0, 205, So.
OLB - Brooks Robinson, 6-2, 201, Sr.; Santavious Oden, 6-0, 200, Fr.
DE - Mikel Whittier, 6-3, 212, Jr.; Sean Watson, 6-2, 290, So.
NOSE - Caleb Lawrence, 6-0, 270, So.; Adam Wright, 6-2, 270, Fr.
DT - DiMetrio Tyson, 6-2, 275, Sr.; Barry Stafford, 6-0, 295, So.
P - Coty Blanchard, 6-0, 180, Jr.
PK - Griffin Thomas, 5-11, 170, So.
KO - Griffin Thomas, 5-11 170, So.
KOR - Alan Bonner, 5-11 168 Jr.; Gabriel Chambers, 5-10, 157, So.
PR - Alan Bonner, 5-11, 168, Jr.; Gabriel Chambers, 5-10, 157, So.
SNAP - Andrew Dean, 5-10, 220, So.
HOLD - Brooks Robinson, 6-1, 201, Sr.
• JSU coach Jack Crowe said it would bother him if the Gamecocks weren’t in the top 25 of the preseason FCS Coaches Poll.
They weren’t and he was.
The Coaches Poll, in which Crowe is a voter, came out Wednesday and the Gamecocks were first among others receiving votes. Eastern Kentucky was the only Ohio Valley Conference team in the top 25 (No. 21). JSU was 22nd in the other major preseason FCS poll that came out earlier this month.
“It bothers me; I feel like we’ve dropped the ball,” Crowe said. “This program should always be in the top 25. We are in sniffing distance of being there, but Arkansas’s not going to help us a lot.
“We’re sniffing at it, but the way our season starts out, we’re going to have to work to get to where we belong to be. Sooner or later it all boils down to how you play in your league. I promise you these coaches and players, if they pay any attention to me whatsoever, they know this season is about the OVC.”
• The Gamecocks picked up their sixth early verbal commitment of perhaps as many as 10 before Oct. 1.
Dylan Cline, a two-way lineman from McAdory, told The Star Wednesday he informed the JSU coaching staff of his decision earlier in the evening, but knew what he was going to do after he attended Saturday’s Fan Day and scrimmage. He chose the Gamecocks over interest from Troy and Middle Tennessee.
“I just want to go where they win championships,” he said. “I committed early because I saw where I wanted to go and want to get on with my senior year.”
The 6-foot-3, 250-pound lineman was said to be the Gamecocks’ first choice at left tackle. He said the Gamecocks would try him at defensive tackle first and if it didn’t work out move him to offense. He only played defense last season and had 69 tackles and 10 sacks last season.