There are a myriad of fantastically intriguing position battles that the Gamecock football team will have between now and the August 28th opener against Texas A&M on the SEC Network.
Some of these battles could be decided in the spring, while others will won and lost during summer practice. Of these, perhaps the most fun to watch will be the arms race at defensive tackle, the frantic scramble at cornerback, and the vitally important, backup quarterback.
First things first…the fatties.
Other than maybe runningback, the defensive tackle spot is the deepest unit on the entire South Carolina football team. Even with the departure of Kelcy Quarles, who led the team in sacks last season, there is enough depth to replace Quarles, fill a two-deep, and then some.
The one (seemingly) unmovable piece in this front is J.T. Surratt. The redshirt senior started every game last year, recording 33 tackles and 4 tackles for loss alongside Quarles. The 6-foot-2, 305 pound Winston-Salem native has too much experience and talent to even mention him here, except to say that he will start and will be poised to have the kind of breakout year that vaulted Quarles up the draft board last year.
The spot next to Surratt is far from settled. Realistically, there are 4 players vying for one position: Kelsey Griffin, Gerald Dixon Jr., Phillip Dukes, and Abu Lamin.
Of these, Dixon, and Dukes have an experience advantage over Lamin (and Griffin, though Griffin has at least been on campus for a year), who enrolled in January. After 5 spring practices however, the coaching staff seems particular excited about the JUCO product, Lamin.
At 6-foot-4 ,295 pounds, and wearing number 99, the resemblance to Kelcy Quarles is remarkable, and Steve Spurrier seems to think that he could make a serious push for the starting role alongside Surratt.
‘”He’s going to be a good player,” Spurrier said Thursday night during a special spring edition of his call-in show. “He’s probably going to be one of the starters inside there. He’s quick and fast”‘ (Hood, Gamecockcentral).
Lamin’s position coach, Deke Adams, also commented on his speed, and while there has been minimal time spent in pads, it is still a safe bet that Lamin has the athleticism necessary to excel at this level.
Gerald Dixon Jr. and Phillip Dukes have similar numbers and both are entering their third year in the program. Nearly identical in size (6-foot-3, ~325 pounds), Dixon and Dukes played in 12 and 13 game respectively last season, each starting 1 game, and they collected a combined 30 tackles in relief of Quarles and Surratt.
Perhaps flying under the radar is Kelsey Griffin, who, as a freshman last season, was able to ease into the defense. He appeared in 9 games and collected 12 tackles, including 5 against Coastal Carolina. Though certainly talented, Griffin is about 20 pounds smaller than Dukes and Dixon, who also have an experience edge on him.
If one of these three does not separate from the pack (a feat that would be exceedingly difficult considering the talent at this position), then it will likely be a “tackle by committee” approach that determines who lines up beside J.T Surratt each weekend.
As a provocative aside, the idea of toying with the 3-4, that Lorenzo “Whammy” Ward tossed around a few weeks ago could be as much due to the depth at defensive tackle as it does with depth at linebacker.
With a lack of proven playmakers at defensive end, the 3-4 uses essentially three defensive tackles (or at least bigger defensive ends, which the Gamecocks are SERIOUSLY lacking). In this scheme, it would not be surprising to see Griffin, Lamin, or even Surratt play the three techniques (lining up over the guard), while the bigger Dukes or Dixon, would take the nose tackle spot, or the zero technique.
Neither Dukes or Dixon are big enough to be nose tackles in a 3-4 defense in the SEC, but situationally, it could be dangerous. As guys that are supposed to eat blocks, Dukes, Dixon, Lamin, Griffin, and Surratt could excel as pass rushers because they would be undersized for typical 3-4 linemen, and be more faster and more handsy; simply, they could be harder to deal with on the inside.
Of course, the reverse could be true, and they could just as easily be pushed around by mammoth SEC linemen. Only time will tell, but Deke Adams and Whammy will surely be looking to get as many of these guys on the field, or at least in the rotation, as they possibly can.