Alan Knott has been a consistent presence there.
No, some outside the program haven’t always been enamored with his play, wished the center of the South Carolina football team’s offensive line was better or stronger. But the Sandy Creek, Ga., lineman was almost always there, across four years and 42 starts, including his final 25 games.
And now the Gamecocks will have an unknown in the middle of the offensive front. The first guy in line for a chance to fill the role: Eric Douglas.
The North Carolina product checks in at a listed 6-foot-4, 308 pounds. He redshirted this past season. He committed to former USC offensive line coach Shawn Elliott and stuck with it after a transition. Now, he’s being talked about to fill one of the biggest holes the Gamecocks project to have on offense.
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South Carolina will go into 2018 with a pair of returning offensive tackles and guard Donell Stanley, who played on both sides. Redshirt sophomore guard Sadarius Hutcherson started four games and improved rapidly (he has a high physical ceiling, but the finer points of pass protection were a work in progress).
Assuming Hutcherson steps in, that leaves center open, with Douglas as a candidate USC coach Will Muschamp likes.
“Eric is really bright, and he can play multiple spots,” Muschamp said. “Obviously, we’re losing Alan next year, and we’ve got to find a center, so that’s been a guy that we’ve repped there. He’s done a nice job there.”
The only other projected center is Chandler Farrell, a 6-foot-2, 292-pound walk-on from Summerville. There’ve been rumblings local recruit Hank Manos of Chapin could contend for the spot after enrolling early, and Muschamp mentioned Stanley had some experience snapping if it came to that.
But even if Stanley moved to the pivot spot, Douglas might contend for playing time.
“He also has played guard, and he, athletically, could be an emergency tackle in some extreme situations,” Muschamp said. “Extremely bright. Really like the way he’s continued to progress for our football team.”
He got a vote of confidence from Gamecocks defensive end D.J. Wonnum, who came to USC an under-rated recruit and blossomed. Wonnum said he expects Douglas to be good soon enough. A few other teammates also expected him to contend to start.
USC will aim for another step forward from a group that improved this season, but wasn’t really what one would call a top-flight group. USC got dramatically better at pass protection, going from near the bottom of the sport to average, and while the run game was a bit more consistent across the season, the Gamecocks still gave up too many tackles for loss and got stuffed often in short yardage.
USC posted back-to-back rough years up front in 2015 and 2016, the latter with a veteran group that was talked up in the preseason. Going into 2018, the Gamecocks won’t have much to replace, and Douglas is as good a starting point as any to plug the biggest hole.
“He’s an athlete,” Wonnum said. “He’s versatile. He can play tackle, guard and center. He can do it all, pretty much.”