With preseason football practice starting Aug. 3, Gamecock Central presents a new series that takes a look at three players who have either played in at least one game or appear on the post-spring two-deep depth chart.
JUSTICE CUNNINGHAM, tight end
Before South Carolina: Cunningham was rated by Rivals.com as a two-star prospect out of Central High School. Originally thought of as a defensive end, he drew scholarship offers from Michigan State and NC State.
The measurables: 6-foot-3, 262 pounds
2009: As a true freshman, Cunningham quickly moved into the two-deep at tight end, despite playing behind Weslye Saunders. He started two of USC's 13 games, seeing regular playing time on special teams but also catching two passes for 23 yards.
2010: As Patrick DiMarco shifted into an H-back/tight end role, Cunningham was mostly used as a blocking tight end but still caught seven balls for 92 yards, including a career-best 25-yard pass against Clemson. He started two of USC's 14 games.
Cunningham will play an integral role in 2011, especially as the Gamecocks seek to exploit the running talents of Marcus Lattimore. Cunningham is a very effective run-blocker and among all the tight ends on the roster, is regarded as the best overall blocker. The coaching staff could also consider using Cunningham as a fullback/H-back, similar to DiMarco, since USC's top two fullbacks are each nursing injuries that have limited their progress. Cunningham could step right into that role as his hands and route-running have improved - never a speed demon, he can get into open space just behind the line and once catching the ball, can bulldoze for a few extra yards after contact. If he proves reliable from the start, the Gamecocks may work him in for a few catches early in every ballgame. That would take some of the double-teams off Alshon Jeffery and open the defense for more of Lattimore and the quarterback rush.
KENNY DAVIS, offensive guard
Before South Carolina: Davis was rated by Rivals.com as a three-star prospect out of Newberry High School. Originally thought of as a defensive lineman, he drew scholarship offers from Clemson, North Carolina, Stanford and Virginia Tech.
The measurables: 6-foot-3, 310 pounds
2009: Played in four games as a backup lineman, recording his first career tackle against Georgia.
2010: Unable to crack the starting rotation with such a deep D-line, Davis got into seven games and played significant snaps in the season-opener as USC didn't know if it would have three linemen eligible almost up until kickoff. He had two tackles against Southern Miss and another two against Arkansas, including his first for loss.
With a four-deep rotation along the defensive line, made of two juniors, a fifth-year senior and a freshman who was a Parade All-American in high school, opportunities for Davis to play were going to be sparse. The decision was made in the spring to switch Davis to the offensive line, which only had five to six healthy players per game last year. Davis emerged from spring as the primary backup to A.J. Cann at left guard. The Gamecocks are hoping that Davis will put together a run of consistent play after being an on-again, off-again talent throughout his career at USC.
PATRICK FISH, punter
Before South Carolina: Fish was rated by Rivals.com as a two-star prospect out of Burns (N.C.) High School. South Carolina was his only major offer.
The measurables: 5-foot-11, 190 pounds
The Gamecocks thought enough of Fish to give him a scholarship out of high school, which isn't unusual but hasn't been the norm at USC recently. The Gamecocks knew that they had gotten a gift with walk-on punter Spencer Lanning, who punted for three seasons and place-kicked as well during the last two, and also knew they should lock up their future in at least one area for the foreseeable future. Fish was brought in to learn for a season and get conditioned and was listed as the starting punter coming out of spring practice. All he has to do now is prove he's worth it - behind him is experience in the form of Joey Scribner-Howard, and in a pinch, Jay Wooten, who is also expected to kick off and be the place-kicker. Walk-on Landon Ard has solid high-school credentials but won't join the team until school begins (Aug. 16), so Fish will have a good two weeks to anchor the spot.
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