For a South Carolina defense that is a perennial power, the departures of future Hall-of-Famer Jadeveon Clowney and wily veterans Victor Hampton Jr., and Jimmy Legree, all key players at key positions, would make any reasonable fan fear for the fate of the defense in the coming season.
Fortunately, a combination of excellent recruiting and having a masterful staff have ensured that there will be no drop-off in the coming season.
A group of veterans at safety should cover up early weaknesses at the corner position, while the linebacking corps, which could be the deepest ever at South Carolina and is certainly the deepest in the Spurrier area, could cover up any early shortcomings of the defensive line.
But that won’t be necessary.
Three starting defensive linemen from last season (Clowney, Quarles, and Sutton) have departed for the NFL, leaving huge shoes to fill. While the unknowns of having only one returning starter are typically daunting, the returning talent on the defensive line is not exactly unknown.
Redshirt senior J.T. Surratt started every game last year and understand the defense as well as anybody on the team. After a solid season where he recorded 33 tackles and 4 TFL, Surratt will be expected to step his game up to the next level and be the heart and sole of this unit.
Next to him there are about four guys that could realistically start, play, and be all-conference caliber players.
Philip Dukes and Gerald Dixon Jr., are the first two names that come up on the list of players to replace Surratt’s sidekick, Kelcy Quarles. Both 6-foot-3 and weighing nearly 325 pounds each, Dukes and Dixon are entering their third year in the program and played in 13 and 12 games respectively last season.
As veterans, it will be hard to overlook either one of these two, but if there is anyone that can make defensive line coach Deke Adams do it, it’s Abu Lamin.
The 6-foot-4, 300 pound JUCO (Fort Scott CC) product was expected to come in and make a name for himself, and earning the “Rex Enright Defensive Player of the Spring” is a great place to start. His combination of speed and size will make him a tough matchup, even for SEC offensive linemen.
Scott Hood of Gamecockcentral projects Lamin to be the starter over Dukes and Dixon, an impressive feat for a player who is effectively a freshman in terms of understanding the defensive scheme.
Defensive tackle will no doubt be the strength of a defensive line that may not see as much of a drop-off as many people are expecting in 2014.