Shawn Elliott has liked much of what he's seen this spring.
With a week of spring practice remaining, USC's fifth-year offensive line coach already has a good idea of what his starting line could look like when the Gamecocks take the field Aug. 28 for the season opener against Texas A&M.
Four of those five linemen - tackles Corey Robinson and Brandon Shell, left guard A.J. Cann and center Cody Waldrop - were starters last year, anchoring a South Carolina offensive attack that averaged 34.1 points per game and a school-record 452.3 total yards per game.
And the fifth - redshirt junior Mike Matulis - made ten combined starts in his freshman and sophomore seasons before redshirting last fall after having shoulder surgery.
Elliott says it's nice having such a seasoned unit up front.
"They're a year advanced," Elliott said. "They've got another season of SEC football under their belt, and it's a pretty good situation to have a lot of that experience coming back."
Matulis, a former tackle who switched to guard this spring, hopes to replace stalwart right guard Ronald Patrick, who made 25 starts over his final two seasons.
At 6-foot-5 and 304 pounds, Matulis is taller and thinner than the prototypical guard (Patrick is 6-foot-2 and 315 pounds). But Elliott says he feels comfortable having the Boyton Beach, Fla., native penciled in as the starting guard for next season.
Being able to move inside from the tackle position all depends on the player, Elliott said, adding that Matulis has been solid so far this spring.
"You've got to be athletic to play tackle," Elliott said. "If you can play the tackle position - if you can play with leverage - you can move inside.
"Now typically, when you have a taller guy like himself, it's harder to do inside right there. But he's done an exceptional job. He's got good hips. He can bend his ankles, his knees and his hips. He can play with the leverage we need right now."
Robinson, Cann, Waldrop, Shell and Matulis have practiced with the first team this spring, but Elliott said he isn't writing anything in stone yet.
"You don't set a starting five in spring," said Elliott. "That's just something we give to (media director Steve) Fink right here so he can throw it in the media guide. It will all be established come fall. This is a pretty good group right now."
Elliott has also been pleased with the line's depth. This time last year, South Carolina was searching for a replacement for T.J. Johnson, who started a school-record 53 games at center from 2009 to 2012.
Now USC appears loaded at the position. Redshirt sophomore Cody Waldrop started six games at center last season, and Clayton Stadnik started the other seven, filling in capably each time Waldrop went down with injury.
Waldrop has been solid in spring practice so far, Elliott said.
"I'm pleased with his progress," Elliott said. "It was kind of an up and down season for him when he got injured so early. He never could get it, gained a little weight, took the mobility away from him toward the end of the season. He's back where he needs to be."
Elliott said deciding between Waldrop and Stadnik this spring is a toss-up, and that redshirt freshman center Alan Knott has been good as well. Elliott said he would feel comfortable having any of the three on the field this fall.
Mason Zandi and Brock Stadnik have also stepped up this spring to provide more depth, Elliott said.
Zandi, a redshirt sophomore listed as the second-team left tackle behind Corey Robinson, has shown impressive drive this spring, Elliott said.
"Mason Zandi has had as good of a spring as you could have asked for. He is pushing it every bit," said Elliott, adding that Zandi played roughly 77 plays and "didn't miss a beat" in USC's first scrimmage of the spring.
"He's playing really solid and playing confident," Elliott said. "It's good to see. He's a big man and he can move, so it's a pleasure to see him."
And Stadnik, a redshirt sophomore backing up A.J. Cann at left guard, has been "exceptional" in spring practice, said Elliott.
"He's starting to see things from a different perspective," Elliott said of Stadnik, who saw action on the offensive line against Arkansas and Coastal Carolina last season. "He knows when blitzes are coming, and he's starting to pick up on it. It's becoming extremely important to him."
Elliott said it's too early to tell how good USC's offensive line can be this season, but that he's happy with the group's progress up to this point.
"We've got a really good group. We've got a solid group," Elliott said. "They work hard. They try. Some of them young guys are nowhere near where they need to be. They've got to stay in the weight room and get better and better and better, but it's pleasing to come out here and know that you've got some guys that want to be good and that work hard to be good at it."
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