South Carolina Football: Previewing the defensive line, part II

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.

Even though the Gamecocks had Jadeveon Clowney lining up at one end spot and veteran Chaz Sutton opposite him, the defensive end unit was not particularly productive–in terms of statistics–last season.

This is not to say that the ends’ impact on the game was not felt because it was; Jadeveon Clowney may be the most “schemed-for” college football player of all time. There is not going to be anyone like that at end next year, and while the playmaking ability and impact–in terms of game-plan as well as the execution–will be severely missed, it will not be devastating.

At this point, there is not a clear playmaker at defensive end, which is for the better. When Jadeveon Clowney, Melvin Ingram, and Cliff Matthews were “the guy” teams could scheme for that and try to nullify the threat. Now, that does not always work, but it is a curious case that Deke Adams is going to encounter this year–and indeed a curious case for anyone that has watched Gamecock football for the last six years: there is no “the guy” this year.

One may develop, sure, but the last time that there was not one defensive end to whom opposing teams would pay particular attention was 2006.

Miami beat Dallas in the finals that year, and the MVP was Dwyane Wade, and the first iPhone was still an idea, not to be released for another year, Tiger Woods was in the news for golf, and Wikipedia published its millionth article in English (it’s over 4.5 BILLION now).

Where then will the pressure come from, if not from an outstanding defensive end for the first time in nearly a decade?

Everywhere. Deke Adams and Coach Spurrier might not know where their defensive end pressure is going to come from, but then neither do any of the opposing teams.

Darius English has been working with a dietitian during the offseason, to add weight to his incredibly lanky frame and is up to nearly 250 now, a reasonably playing weight, though he hopes to surpass the 260 mark by August.

As Clowney’s backup last season, he accumulated 19 tackles, 2.5 TFL and had a forced fumble.

English and Gerald Dixon have the most experience at the end spot, and both started one game last season while playing in all 13.

Dixon had comparable stats to English last year, grabbing 17 tackles, including four in the win over Missouri, 1.5 TFL, and a fumble recovery.

The backups are redshirt junior Mason Harris, who played mostly on special teams down the stretch, and converted linebacker Cedric Cooper, who, like English, would have to put on a considerable amount of weight to be an “every down” type of end in the SEC. Cooper could be used situationally as a pass rusher because he is smaller and has more speed than most defensive ends.

The drop-off after those two is considerable, but defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward has already addressed the potential, lack of depth issue by working in some 3-4 during the spring.

With three down linemen, Ward could almost play three defensive ends, enter Kelsey Griffin, the fourth defensive tackle that I did not mention by name earlier, who, as a smaller tackle, he could see time as a 3-4 defensive end.

Depending on how much Ward uses the 3-4, the smaller ends like Cooper, who couldn’t find playing time at linebacker, and Mason Harris, may not see too much of the field on a regular basis.

How much 3-4 the Gamecocks play remains to be seen, but count on Ward going with what’s working. If that’s playing three defensive tackles and sitting his ends, then that is what will happen, but if English or Dixon starts to write his own chapter in the dynastic history book of South Carolina defensive ends, Ward will likely be fine with that too.

If you missed it, but sure to check out Part I of the defensive line breakdown