For all the talk about South Carolina’s offense, the key to the season may be how much progress the defense can make this fall. And the key to that will be the defensive line.
“For us to play well defensively this year, I am going to put pressure on three guys, Dante Sawyer, Ulric Jones and Taylor Stallworth,” Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp said Thursday at SEC media days.
Sawyer, Jones and Stallworth all are expected to play primarily defensive tackle.
“Those three guys need to play really well for us,” Muschamp said. “We have to improve up front and those three guys are seniors and they are certainly capable. For us to play defensively, they need to play well.”
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It wasn’t long ago that sophomore quarterback Jake Bentley was off limits to the media. Thursday he was front and center along with wide receiver Deebo Samuel and tight end Hayden Hurst representing the Gamecocks in front of more than 1,000 media members.
“It’s been crazy, lotta cameras, lotta people, but it’s been great to represent our university,” Bentley said.
Muschamp spoke highly of running back David Williams, who transferred from South Carolina after the 2016 season and will play against the Gamecocks this year as a running back at Arkansas.
“David, first of all, is an outstanding person, an outstanding young man, and a really good football player,” Muschamp said. “I didn't wanted to lose David. I tried to talk David into staying at South Carolina.”
Williams originally planned to transfer to UConn, but Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema and athletic director Jeff Long approached Muschamp in June at the SEC’s spring meetings to ask if Muschamp would clear a transfer within the conference.
“Absolutely,” Muschamp replied. “Give the guy an opportunity, if that's what he wants to do. David's a good football player.”
The SEC’s new emphasis on coaches conduct doesn’t concern Muschamp, he said.
“I’ve have never had a 15-yard penalty, regardless of what CBS says,” Muschamp said, referring to a game two years ago when he was Auburn’s defensive coordinator. “There’s a difference between perception and reality in life. The perception by some people is not always the reality.”
The conference’s officials will now assess a 15-yard penalty any time a coach comes onto the playing field to argue a call.
Muschamp hosted his players at his home on Lake Murray on Wednesday for a day that included eating and jet skiing.
“I don’t know that I learn anymore about them. I think they learn a lot more about me,” he said. “I think it’s important for our players to see me as a husband and a father and in a different setting than being the head coach at South Carolina. I try to provide that as many times as we can, whether it’s an occasional meal at a restaurant in Columbia or coming out to my house.”
The Gamecocks will hold their first practice of the season July 31. Muschamp said Thursday that he has scripted the team’s first 11 practices, and that the 11th practice will be a critical scrimmage.
“That’s going to be D-Day for a lot of guys, especially those young guys,” Muschamp said. “For me on defense it’s the who and the what. Who do we need to continue to develop? And what can they handle? We will know a lot more then.”
Defensive back Keisean Nixon and offensive linemen Jordan Carty and Jordan Rhodes are expected to report for fall camp with the rest of the team on July 30.