Will Ellington Be Playmaker Gamecocks Need?
South Carolina returns most of the starting line, the starting quarterback, and a running back that has the potential for a breakout sophomore year. With all that coming back, the Gamecocks should have a reliable offense. In particular, the running game should be able to consistently pick up yardage.
What the Gamecocks lack, however, is a big-time playmaker who can stretch the field and get big chunks of yardage.
South Carolina has everything in place to run a somewhat conservative offense that focuses on ball control and not making mistakes. Eventually, though, teams will put eight players in the box and spy linebackers and safeties to keep Connor Shaw from running out of the pocket.
Therefore, the Gamecocks will need a playmaker who can serve as a downfield threat. Bruce Ellington is the team's best option to step into that role.
The two-sport star is unquestionably athletic. He’s got good speed and can juke defenders in the open field. It’s those qualities that have made him an excellent kick returner for the Gamecocks.
Ellington has also shown promise as a receiver. Last season he led the team with 600 receiving yards and his 40 catches were only five fewer than Ace Sanders' team-leading 45 (stats via ESPN). For the upcoming season, Ellington is by far the most field-tested South Carolina receiver.
Still, there are some nagging questions with Ellington. At 5-foot-9, he doesn’t have a size advantage over most corners, his route running could use some improvement and he's occasionally dropped passes. While there’s nothing Ellington can do about his size, he can improve his position-specific skills.
Of course some fans wonder if Ellington’s development as a football player is hampered by his two-sport status. There's even some concern that he won't play football as a senior and instead focus on basketball (via The Greenville News).
Ellington missed most of the early spring practices due to basketball. But even with fewer practice reps, Ellington represents the Gamecocks' most reliable receiver going into the 2013 season.
Damiere Byrd is the same height as Ellington, but even skinnier. Though Byrd has great speed, he only had 14 catches last year. Nick Jones, who at 5-foot-7 is even shorter than Ellington and Byrd, also contributed sparsely last season with just 12 receptions.
With a stable of young and inexperienced receivers, it’s up to Ellington to be South Carolina’s playmaker downfield. He’s the best option to consistently get open and break big plays. With Ace Sanders gone, he'll need to improve from last season because he'll now be getting more of the defensive secondary's focus.
If he can emerge as a playmaker that defenses are forced to account for, then South Carolina’s offense should be even more dynamic. If Ellington isn’t up to the challenge, then either one of the inexperienced receivers will need to rise to the occasion or South Carolina’s offense will start to appear fairly one-dimensional.