On the Beat: Gamecocks convert cornerback to bolster receiver ranks

Jamari Smith started on offense, coming to South Carolina as a running back before being converted to a cornerback as a true freshman. Now the redshirt sophomore is moving back to the other side of the ball.

Smith is being converted to wide receiver to try and bolster a unit which has lost two players to season-ending injuries. Redshirt freshman Shaq Davidson a tore knee ligament, and true freshman Jerad Washington broke a bone in his leg in practice prior to USC’s season-opening victory over North Carolina. A Jacksonville, Fla., native, Smith rushed for 2,178 yards as a high school senior.

“We actually talked about it in the spring, but at the time they needed to keep looking at him at DB, which I certainly understood,” receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. said after practice Wednesday. “But he’s been with us before, and he’s certainly a capable athlete. I’m looking forward to getting him over there and coaching him up and seeing where his opportunities come. But he could get a chance to play receiver for us this year.”

Smith, 5-10 and 200 pounds, missed all last season after breaking his foot. He rushed for 103 yards and a touchdown against Coastal Carolina as a freshman before being moved to defense. “If he had to go play tomorrow, we’d have to go coach him up a little bit on the run,” Spurrier Jr. said. “But if he can run and catch and hold onto the ball, usually you’ve got a pretty decent player.”

Quarterback Connor Mitch has been back at practice the past two days after being limited earlier in the week with a hip pointer suffered against UNC, said quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus. Mitch rushed for 44 yards in his first start, and suffered the injury when he was rolling out of the pocket.

“I thought overall he did really well running the football on the zone read, and pulled it when he needed to, and fought though some cramps,” Mangus said. “He took a big hit there and came back and finished the game, so he showed a little toughness in there, too, which is good. He’ll get better every week. It’s always good to get that first game under your belt.”

Mitch completed 9-of-22 passes for 122 yards and one touchdown, and according to head coach Steve Spurrier needs more help from the players around him. “I don’t think we did a very good job of getting some guys open for him. But he did OK. He did pretty well,” Spurrier said. “He just needs to concentrate. He just needs to take his steps, and if the guy’s open, fire it in there and go from there. He just hasn’t played a lot yet. We’re hoping he will improve as the season goes.”

All the USC players banged up against the Tar Heels, a group which included Mitch, tailback Brandon Wilds (shoulder) and receivers Deebo Samuel (hamstring) and Terry Googer (shoulder), were full-go in practice Wednesday.

Starting right tackle Mason Zandi will switch from his usual No. 74 to No. 51 Saturday against Kentucky to honor teammate Cody Waldrop, lost for the season with a broken bone above the ankle suffered in practice. “He’s been my best friend and my roommate for three years now,” Zandi said. “To honor him and to show respect for him, I’m going to wear his number on Saturday.”

Offensive line coach Shawn Elliott confirmed Wednesday that Summerville High School graduate Zack Bailey is now the Gamecocks’ No. 2 center behind starter Alan Knott. Bailey, also a backup left guard, replaced Waldrop in that role.

— David Caraviello