Fans by nature want to see what’s new.
They want to see the next great hope. It’s the same reason when things
are going wrong, there’s a call for a change. Something different could
be good, but not if it’s hidden behind the player’s we’ve already seen.
This is an undercurrent that
runs through nearly every fanbase in the sport. It often burns most
brightly around quarterback, a spot where by nature only one player
really sees the field. And at a Spurs Up tour stop, USC coach Will
Muschamp found himself explaining the rationale behind not letting those
guys you might want to see get loose just yet.
“We’re going to make decisions as coaches,” Muschamp said. “At that position along with every other
position on what it’s going to take to win ballgames. Would you love to
get a young player an opportunity whether it’s quarterback, defensive
end, receiver and give them an opportunity to get playing time?
Absolutely. But if it’s going to risk winning the game, then it’s
probably not a pretty good thing to do.”
He’d been asked about when the world might see the talents of the young four-star passers behind senior Jake Bentley. Dakereon Joyner is a dynamic athlete and can make plays running, while Ryan Hilinski, a top-50 recruit in the 2019 cycle, showed his ability to sling short, accurate passes in the spring game.
Right now, they’re working behind
Bentley, a longtime starter and one of the most productive passers in
program history. But he has been inconsistent and struggled with
turnover issues at times, meaning the team success hasn’t quite matched
the wave of expectations that built at the start of his career.
The Gamecocks are a few weeks removed
from the end of spring practice, and while that lays the groundwork for
who might play, (a season ago, Muschamp said spring make the staff confident R.J. Roderick would see the field) it’s not where most of the choices solidify.
“I can’t make that decision right here on April 25 or 26 or
whatever it is,” Muschamp said. “We’ve got to go through training camp,
and we make a decision after the second scrimmage at all positions, not
just at quarterback. Can this guy play on game day? Can this guy help
us win the game?”
The Gamecocks haven’t been shy through
the years about playing young players should they check that box.
Players such as Rick Sandidge, Jaycee Horn, Israel Mukuamu, Dylan Wonnum
and Roderick were in real roles as true freshmen last season. The likes
of Bryan Edwards, Bentley, OrTre Smith, Shi Smith and more have done it
in past seasons.
Muschamp explained the training camp
atmosphere helps separate players. The coach believes in practice as an
indicator, and thus makes a point of putting in as many game day-like
situations as he can into those August practices.
He also pointed to a visit from Pro
Football Hall of Famers Ronnie Lott and Charles Haley, who he said
preached preparation. He noted Haley, a five-time Super Bowl champion,
was sometimes limited early in his career due to not being on top of
assignments and a lack of dependability that cost him the trust of
In the end was what it came down to —
trust. If the staff decides a player has earned that trust, he’ll be in a
spot to play. If not, he’s not going to be thrown out there, no matter
the stars or the promise fans see in him.
“If we make the decision no, then maybe
we don’t have that confidence at that time,” Muschamp said. “At times,
you’ve got to build the confidence of that player, but I can only do
that through practice. I don’t believe in gamers. That’s not who i am.
So we’ve got to build that confidence in practice.”