With the season opener against North Carolina fast approaching, South Carolina football’s pecking order at quarterback seems to be all figured out.
The depth chart for the Gamecocks’ other backfield position is a little murkier.
At running back, USC appears to have four players vying for two spots — seniors Rico Dowdle and Mon Denson, freshman Kevin Harris and grad transfer Tavien Feaster.
Speaking on Tuesday, offensive coordinator Bryan McClendon refused to tip his hand towards any of them.
“I think it’s still kind of figuring its way out. But I’ll tell you what, the guys that have done extremely well,” McClendon said. “Rico’s probably had the best camp since he’s been here. Tavien’s done a good job since he’s been here, come in and worked extremely hard. Mon, Kevin Harris, all those guys really picked up. I think getting Tavien in helped up the level of competitiveness in that room.”
As a grad transfer from Clemson, Feaster has received the majority of hype through training camp and is considered a potential impact player for USC this season. Despite him committing to Carolina less than a month ago, McClendon said it is “conceivable” that Feaster will earn the starting job to begin the season.
Dowdle, meanwhile, has long been known as a talented runner, but injuries have slowed his career with the Gamecocks, and he missed some time this camp with a bone bruise. Overall, though, he’s been fit, according to McClendon and quarterback Jake Bentley, and the impact has been undeniable.
“He’s 100% healthy and looks like Rico, you know, back in freshman year against Tennessee, running it the way he was running then,” Bentley said. “So just really, really looking good. I think he’s just a lot more confident.”
Bentley also echoed McClendon’s comment that Dowdle has been having the best training camp of his career, while also praising Denson’s playmaking ability. Add in Harris, an impact freshman who’s been drawing rave reviews since the spring, and McClendon and coach Will Muschamp have a tough decision on their hands.
“It’s hard to play three backs in one game if everybody’s healthy. Knowing and understanding that, you’re probably going to lean on your top two guys,” McClendon said. “And then those third and fourth guys, like I said, they got to be ready to contribute a bunch on special teams and do a good job of spelling those other guys. And if something happens, get ready to get in the game in any any way they’re asked to do.
“But right now, you want to lean on the top two guys. There’s still a couple more things that we want to see shake out before we kind of name those deals.”
And no matter who does wind up winning those two main roles, the harsh reality of the position is that injuries often demand teams have three or four capable backs over the course of a season.
“The thing is, is just right now you’re at a time where you want to make sure guys go into the season as healthy as they possibly can be, in particular, at that position,” McClendon said. “That’s one that just takes a lot of beating on your body, man.”
If that ends up being the case, Bentley expressed optimism about the team’s depth.
“Really all of them have made some good plays for us. So, I think they’re gonna keep battling it out, and then we’ll see week one,” Bentley said.