Here is my speculation about the Gamecocks’ starting offensive line.
The most controversial of the 2015 offensive line projections is the guess that red-shirt Junior Mason Zandi will be the starting left tackle in the opening game. Zandi was listed as the starting left tackle after the spring football practices, but there were also a lot of experienced linemen who were sidelined while recuperating from injuries. Thus, the spring depth chart must be discounted. Nevertheless, I say it’s Zandi.
My primary factors in projecting Zandi there are rumors and noise. I know that rumors and noise are not the sound basis of a projection. But the Zandi rumors are sweet. Serious Gamecocks fans already know that Zandi works hard in the weight room and with his conditioning. In his career at Carolina, we see that he just keep getting bigger and stronger every season. As it stands now, his 6’9″ size and 330 (unofficial) pounds equip him with the body of a left tackle. His size alone puts Zandi on the radar of the NFL scouts.
Rumors out of Chapin say Zandi is focused on drills to improve quickness and feet. His size and strength give him all the tools to handle elite SEC defensive linemen. The Gamecocks Running Game Coordinator, Shawn Elliott, already says that Zandi, “runs like a deer.” That’s high praise! If Zandi improves just a bit in his footwork, he can take one of the starting tackle jobs.
Zandi’s primary competitors for the left tackle starting job are red-shirt seniors Brandon Shell and Mike Matulis. I am not saying that Zandi could beat out either of these senior leaders. Shell has started every game since his RS Freshman season. He is on the sports writers’ preseason Outland Trophy Watch list, an award given to the nation’s best interior lineman.
Injury-plagued, Matulis played well as a left tackle when he was just a freshman. He is a red shirt Senior, and has more experience than Zandi. I believe either Shell or a healthy Matulis would beat Zandi out for the starting left tackle job if it were the only position those two guys could play.
But the fact is that Shell has played right tackle his entire career, including his playing days at Goose Creek High School. The Gamecocks coaches experimented with Shell at left tackle before and they decided to keep him at his old right tackle spot. I’m sure the experiments will continue this fall because Shell is the best offensive lineman on the Gamecocks team. (Generally speaking, you want your best at left tackle.) If Zandi shows out the Gamecocks coaches will keep Shell at his old position where he is comfortable.
That brings me to Mike Matulis. Mike Matulis is too good and too seasoned not to start somewhere on the Gamecocks offensive line. He has battled back following shoulder and ACL (knee) operations. He is an over-comer and a leader. Matulis also plays guard where the Gamecocks lost NFL draftee A. J. Cann. Matulis likes playing guard. He has good footwork and with improvement he could be a great guard. His weight is down below 300 pounds. If Matulis’ knee is healthy, I see him in the middle of the Gamecocks’ line where his voice is needed.
My center is red shirt Sophomore Alan Knott. According to the USCSports.com roster, Knott is only 268 pounds. (Some say the roster understates his actual weight.) 268 is light for an SEC center and Knott lacks game experience. (He has only started eight games.) However, Knott is fierce. The Gamecocks coaches named Knott the most improved offensive lineman, and the Joe Morrison Offensive Player of the spring. That is high praise! Knott is also picked by sports writers as a player to watch in competition for the Rimington Award for college football’s best center. I predict Knott holds his spot as the starting center.
So who will play the other guard?There are some talented guys fighting for this spot, including 4 star recruit Donell Stanley, who turned down a scholarship offer from Alabama to play for the Gamecocks. But I see RS Senior Will Sport holding onto his starting position for the opening game. This is not a flashy pick. But Sport is a proven, experienced, and solid offensive guard.
As the fall practices proceed, it will be interesting to watch the battles on the offensive line. There are a lot of good players other than the five above. Mixing and matching to get the best five guys on the field could mean the Gamecocks OL will be in a state of flux for Fall football camp.