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Shane Beamer updates Gamecocks quarterback competition after first scrimmage

Shane Beamer waltzed into his weekly Tuesday press conference as per usual, ready to discuss the end of South Carolina’s ninth spring practice this year and what happened last Saturday.

One scrimmage down, two more to go.

Here were some of the takeaways the Gamecocks’ football head coach had reflecting on the first scrimmage of spring ball.

Quarterback activity

There were about 60 plays of “scrimmage work,” as Beamer shared, where the Gamecocks’ quarterbacks were live. That made up roughly a third of Saturday’s game. Everything else was 7-on-7 play without tackling to focus on the passing game.

Once again, Beamer said he hasn’t seen much separation between the quarterbacks. He said he was impressed with a few throws by redshirt freshman LaNorris Sellers and Auburn transfer Robby Ashford, as well as Ashford’s pocket presence. There were a few moments Beamer liked from true freshman early enrollee Dante Reno during last Thursday’s practice and Saturday’s scrimmage, too.

Beamer pointed out that while tackling QBs can be a little scary in the spring, he made sure the room didn’t get too comfortable sitting in the pocket for too long.

“I don’t like them to, but they need to just understand they can’t sit back in the pocket all day and not get hit at this level,” Beamer said. “They gotta understand when they have to get rid of the ball and when they’re protected or not.”

South Carolina quarterback LaNorris Sellers (16) runs drills during the Gamecocks’ practice in Columbia on Tuesday, March 19, 2024.
South Carolina quarterback LaNorris Sellers (16) runs drills during the Gamecocks’ practice in Columbia on Tuesday, March 19, 2024.

He mentioned some of the contact in the pocket also came down to making sure that everyone on offense, including tight ends, receivers and running backs, were also following through on their role in each play. Despite any imperfections he might have seen on the field, Beamer didn’t feel like there was anything too glaring up front with the offensive line.

“It’s as always on offense,” Beamer said. “You know, defensively you have 11 guys lining the ball and two guys do something wrong, it’s okay. The other nine make up for it and it’s an okay play. Offensively, you can have 10 guys doing everything right one guy takes the wrong step or runs slow route at the wrong depth and it’s a bad play … but I didn’t walk out of there saying, ‘Oh my god, we got problems up front.’”

Spring game roster updates

There are a few players ruled out of the spring game next week, all due to preexisting injuries. Running backs Juju McDowell, Rocket Sanders and Bradley Dunn were all on that list.

Outside of that, Beamer expects all those healthy to participate in the spring game. Regardless of their experience level — fresh out of high school after enrolling early or five years as a starter — Beamer plans for them to play.

“There’s nobody that we’re saying is healthy that we’re gonna not play in the spring game,” he said. “Everybody will play and we want to make it competitive and have a great atmosphere out there next Saturday night.”

A number of players did not participate in Tuesday’s practice: TE Brady Hunt, DE Jatius Geer, DB Nick Emmanwori and WR Debron Gatling. Defensive tackle Tonka Hemingway was also limited.

Beamer said everyone who didn’t practice has no “significant” injury and their absences were more precautionary. Geer, who’s in his second year after transferring from Syracuse, is the only player with a potentially larger issue. Beamer said Geer saw a doctor but didn’t detail his specific injury. Hunt, a transfer tight end from Ball State, was injured during Saturday’s scrimmage.

Beamer expects to have a better idea of who else will be limited or unavailable moving forward later Tuesday afternoon.

“Hopefully we’ll have as full of groups as possible,” he said.

South Carolina running back Djay Braswell (23) runs drills during the Gamecocks’ practice in Columbia on Tuesday, March 19, 2024.
South Carolina running back Djay Braswell (23) runs drills during the Gamecocks’ practice in Columbia on Tuesday, March 19, 2024.

Running back depth

The Gamecocks are still shorthanded at running back. That hasn’t changed much, particularly with McDowell and Sanders out for nearly all of spring ball. The room is mostly filled with young players, all of whom played little to no snaps last season.

That didn’t change USC’s desire to call run plays as normal during Saturday’s scrimmage.

“We didn’t say, ‘Okay, we’re not going to do this because we’re banged up at the running back position,’” Beamer said. “We call runs like we always do, call passes like we always do, and all those guys certainly flashed at times.”

North Texas transfer Oscar Adaway III and sophomore DJay Braswell were two RBs Beamer mentioned that handled a few plays on Saturday, picking up some “explosive” runs.

Since Sanders and McDowell are still expected to return by the regular season, there haven’t been any conversations about moving other players to running back like last season. Could it be a conversation? Potentially, but that’s not the plan right now.

“No other position right now,” Beamer said. “Maybe in time, sure. I just mentioned wanting to get those receivers involved and getting the ball in their hands. So, like we’ve done in the past, we’ll be creative with how we do that going forward.”

Receiving room

With a group of smaller wide receivers and experienced tight ends, there’s a good number of things Beamer liked from Saturday’s scrimmage.

The receiving room has been “complementing each other,” starting to fix together like a jigsaw puzzle. Beamer said he’s been playing with some mix-and-match scenarios, toying with a few WR and TE combinations to see who pairs better with whom.

“There may be a day where it’s a little bit more two tight end personnel groupings, and might be a day where it might be a little bit more one tight end three receiver personnel groupings,” Beamer said, “and being able to get all those guys in different positions to see what they can do.”

Tight end Joshua Simon has performed well so far and TE Connor Cox played a few snaps despite dealing with a lingering injury. Beamer still expects big seasons out of the tight end room, given that it’s one of the most experienced groups USC has this year.

“(Cox) got back out there a little bit in the scrimmage on Saturday which was good to see him back out there,” Beamer said. “We need him to really come along here these next two weeks and take a step.”

As for the rest of the wide receivers, Beamer mentioned true freshman wide receiver Mazeo Bennett performed well in the scrimmage, recovering a forced fumble to save possession for the offense and making a few explosive plays.

South Carolina wide receiver Mazeo Bennett (3) runs drills during the Gamecocks’ practice in Columbia on Tuesday, March 19, 2024.
South Carolina wide receiver Mazeo Bennett (3) runs drills during the Gamecocks’ practice in Columbia on Tuesday, March 19, 2024.

Turnovers? Not this time

Good news from the offense on Saturday: Beamer reported there weren’t any turnovers during Saturday’s scrimmage.

Yes, it’s the first scrimmage of spring ball, but that’s not as exciting for the defense.

“Which is rare in any scrimmage,” Beamer said. “The offense didn’t turn the ball over, which was great as a head coach because you don’t want to do that, but the defense didn’t create takeaways.”

USC struggled to win the turnover battle for much of last season and was middle of the pack in the SEC and nationally with only 17 forced. It’s been one of the team’s top concerns on defense. Beamer said defensive back Judge Collier did punch the ball out during a called play on Saturday, but the offense recovered it to avoid the turnover.

In most cases, the defense is supposed to be developing ahead of the offense during spring ball. It’s due to a variety of reasons, mostly coming down to knowing the playbook. The Gamecocks have another scrimmage on April 13 before the spring game on April 20, so it’s possible the defense will pick up a turnover or two soon enough.

South Carolina football spring game