August 17, 2017

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) South Carolina offensive line coach Eric Wolford knew when he was hired that his job was to toughen up his players and improve the Gamecocks offensive numbers.

He believes that's happening this summer.

Everyone will know for sure in a few weeks.

The Gamecocks were next-to-last in Southeastern Conference rushing and last in the league in sacks allowed - both areas where the offensive line gets most of the blame.

''There was a concern with our overall athletic ability when you look at the matchups we have week in and week out,'' Wolford said about watching tape of last year's lack of production.

Through more than two weeks of summer camp, South Carolina coaches are confident the players up front will be improved and ready to anchor South Carolina's offense.

''I think Eric's done a great job of helping those guys progress,'' offensive coordinator Kurt Roper said. ''I feel good about those guys, I feel good about going to play right now if we had to play.''

Wolford credited strength coach Jeff Dillman with pushing players to get stronger, faster and fearless, saying ''our players have done a great job this summer of becoming more mobile, their ability to change direction.''

Wolford is a fiery offensive line coach starting his second stint with the Gamecocks. He was hired in 2009 as offensive line coach by then head coach Steve Spurrier. Despite staying just one year, Wolford had a hand in setting up South Carolina's three-year run of unprecedented success - 33-6 mark from 2011-13 - as part of the group that recruited All-SEC running back Marcus Lattimore to the Gamecocks.

Wolford, from Youngstown, Ohio, left after one season to become head coach at Youngstown State from 2010-2014. He spent the past two years as an assistant offensive line coach with the San Francisco 49ers when he got the call from Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp about rejoining the program.

''Eric is a really good football coach,'' Muschamp said. ''I think he's offered a lot of experience to our coaching staff. He's been a tremendous asset to me from the standpoint of having sat in the seat before. That's important and I certainly bounce ideas off him.''

Wolford said he was enticed by Muschamp's down-to-earth, blue-collar approach.

''If I didn't know better I'd think his dad was a steel worker and grew up like my dad did,'' Wolford said. Muschamp ''is a tough guy who likes to work hard, has tremendous passion for the game of football, will not be outworked, honest and forthright guy, tells you the way it is. I just love guys like that.''

Wolford has a reputation for being boisterous with his players, something they've witnessed firsthand since his arrival. Wolford is quick to call them on mistakes, which he knows could lead to quarterback Jake Bentley getting sacked, guard Sadarius Hutcherson said.

''He wants us to be better than last year,'' Hutcherson said.

Bentley, who was sacked 25 times in seven games, sees and hears an improved mindset and attitude from the offensive line. ''They are communicating better and being on the same page better for the most part, a lot less pressure on me,'' the sophomore quarterback said.

Wolford has a starting five in mind, but wants to build more depth these next two weeks before the Gamecocks open against North Carolina State in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Sept. 2.

''We're just trying to get some consistency in our group,'' Wolford said. ''I've never been anywhere where you have 10 (linemen ready), but we're trying to get eight right now who can play at any given time.''

---

More AP college football: http://collegefootball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

You May Like