Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward has already made big news this spring despite the fact that only one practice has taken place, and that practice, due to weather, had to be held in doors: South Carolina may be experimenting with a 3-4 defense this season.
Ward finds himself in an unusual position for him: there is no clear playmaker at defensive end. For all of Ward’s tenure as South Carolina’s defensive coordinator, he has run a 4-2-5. The luxury of having an extra defensive back is a result of being able to get pressure on the quarterback with six men up front (one fewer linebacker than the traditional 4-3), and of late, that extra pressure has come from an elite defensive end.
Ever since Eric Norwood was suiting up on Saturdays, the Gamecocks have had at least one proven playmaker as well as a clear-cut replacement for the next year. Norwood gave way to Cliff Matthews, who gave way to Melvin Ingram, who gave way to Jadeveon Clowney, who giving way to…Darius English?
Not to knock to English, who has shown some ability and has done a phenomenal job of putting on the weight necessary to be an every down defensive end in the SEC, but he has not shown anything to indicate that he will be that guy.
For Ward, that’s OK.
Only one year removed from what could have been a linebacker crisis (all of the previous year’s two-deep had graduated), not only has the Gamecocks’ linebacking corps developed into the strength of the defense, Lorenzo Ward now has more linebackers than he knows what to do with, particularly in a scheme that only plays two traditional linebackers.
The two-deep at linebacker is really at this point a list of co-starters. Besides maybe Skai Moore, who will be looking to cement himself as one of the best linebackers in the league this season, T.J. Holloman, Kaiwan Lewis, and Marcquis Roberts all seem to be on about equal footing and are interchangeable. This does not even factor in spurs Sharrod Golightly (who, in this new system may not have the size to play linebacker and may move to the secondary), Jordan Diggs, and up-and-comer Larenz Bryant.
It only makes sense that with an excess of talented linebackers and a dearth of proven playmakers at defensive end, that South Carolina would at least entertain the possibility of putting more of those linebackers on the field at the same time.
This change would not be an entire scheme shift, as the Gamecocks will still primarily run their 4-2-5, but as Ward told 107.5 The Game earlier this week, it would be easy enough to switch in the middle of a game.
It may also happen that once fall practice rolls around that Gerald Dixon and Darius English will have flipped the switch. Even if this is the case, and even if Ward did have another Clowney, there is no way that getting so many talented linebackers on the field at the same time can be a bad idea.
While a lot of this may just be noise and only news-worthy because any college football anything at this time of year is SO EXCITING (not even being sarcastic…college basketball just doesn’t do it for me), the fact that Ward thought it worth mentioning means that it is worth people listening.
This largely inconsequential (if it even comes to fruition) shift would be a microcosm of what has made him successful as the defensive coordinator of the Gamecocks: his willingness to change, adapt, and do whatever it takes to put his unit in a position to success.