COLUMBIA - Make no mistake about it. South Carolina has two of the most talented, versatile tight ends in the SEC, if not the country.
The question remains if this will be the season production equals or surpasses that potential - something that hasn't happened the last two years.
Standing side-by-side, Rory "Busta" Anderson and Jerell Adams look like specimens cut out of an NFL mold for tight ends. Anderson stands 6-5, 227 pounds while Adams is 6-6, 242. Both can run and jump and have displayed soft hands, but the numbers just haven't added up on the field.
"I think Busta and Jerell are ready to have big years," South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said. "They've looked decent so far."
In three seasons, Anderson has totaled 39 receptions for 694 yards and eight touchdowns. He made a splash as a freshman in 2011 when three of his eight catches resulted in touchdowns. He had his most productive season in 2012 when he added 14 grabs for 271 yards and five touchdowns. Last season, he hauled in 17 passes for 235 yards but never found the end zone despite being a red zone target several times.
There were questions if Anderson, a senior, would be ready for the season opener against Texas A&M next Thursday after suffering a torn right triceps muscle late in spring drills and having surgery in April. He missed the first few weeks of camp but has been at full speed for about a week.
Quarterback Dylan Thompson for one is glad to have Anderson back.
"Busta being back is huge," Thompson said. "He's a great athlete and when you have him on the field at the same time as Jerell you have two guys on the field that can really run. He's a good player, a good teammate and a good person. Just having his energy on the practice field is a boost."
Adams, a junior, came to USC after a stellar prep career at Class A Scott's Branch High School. He played quarterback, tight end, linebacker, defensive end and punter so honing his skills at one position has been different.
He caught four passes for 90 yards as a freshman before becoming a bigger part of the package last year after recovering from an ankle injury he suffered in preseason camp. He seemed to play his best in the latter stages of the season and finished with 13 receptions for 187 yards and touchdowns against Mississippi State and Wisconsin.
"We've got to get a lot more balls going to him," Spurrier said of Adams. "He's a talent who is faster than he's ever been."
That certainly could be the case with Thompson at quarterback. He has a throw-first mentality where he might wait a bit longer before tucking it and running. Former starter Connor Shaw had more of a running mindset and when things didn't appear open right away wasn't afraid to run it.
Neither Adams nor Anderson has spoken to the media in preseason camp, but that hasn't stopped teammates from talking about the duo. Senior Cody Gibson, a former offensive lineman who has moved to tight end this season as well, is impressed with his running mates.
"They are two of the most talented tight ends in the SEC," Gibson said. "They're huge, they can run, they can block."
Gibson and junior Drew Owens also could see time at tight end. Gibson said this week he usually starts when the Gamecocks employ a two-tight end scheme, but he's mainly in there for his blocking ability. The senior has seen action on the offensive line each of the last three seasons but has trimmed down about 25 pounds to 270 for his stint as a run blocking tight end.
"I'm mainly a run blocker but occasionally they will throw me out on a route. I'm 100 percent cool with run blocking. We have Busta and Jerell who are very good receiving tight ends so I'm out there for the power game," Gibson said. "It's nice for me to stick at one position and try to be the best at it. I should have more opportunities to get on the field to help the team out."