Brad Lawing has a lot of ideas about how he’d like to use all the defensive ends at his disposal, but he’s got to find a nose tackle for most of them to work effectively.
South Carolina needs a “push guy” in the middle of the defensive line, Lawing said. Travian Robertson, who was drafted in the seventh round of the NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons, was that player last year. Robertson’s near-immovable presence in the middle allowed Lawing to play defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney, Devin Taylor and Melvin Ingram at the other three defensive line spots in passing situations.
“Last year, Travian was our push guy, and I took those other three and tried to create as much havoc with them as I could,” Lawing said. “Sometimes, Travian would pick up the pieces that were left over.”
Lawing is auditioning candidates for his “push guy” opening during the first two weeks of fall camp. Senior Byron Jerideau (316 pounds), sophomores Kelcy Quarles (286) and J.T. Surratt (295) and freshmen Gerald Dixon Jr. (304) and Phillip Dukes (304) all could get the job, Lawing said.
“I don’t know (who it will be),” Lawing said. “I believe in my eyes. When I see it, then I know it.”
Quarles believes he can be that player. The only returning starter in the middle of the defensive line, Quarles gained strength in the offseason, he said.
“Me and Jerideau make bets about who’s going to have the most tackles for loss or who is going to have the most sacks,” he said. “I’ll look at Clowney and say, ‘I bet I get this one before you.’ The competition is what makes the game fun, but at the end of the day it’s about the team. As long as we are having fun out there, it’s all fine with me.
The Gamecocks held their first official two-a-day practice session Thursday, working out at 8:30 a.m. on 7:30 p.m. The night practice was cut short by bad weather, lasting about 45 minutes.
Cornerback Akeem Auguste (groin) and tight end Justice Cunningham (back) did not practice at all Thursday. Cornerback Vic Hampton (quad) was held out of Thursday night's workout.
Wide receiver K.J. Brent returned to practice after missing several days due to a groin injury.
South Carolina will practice at 8:30 a.m. Friday morning and hold a scrimmage on Saturday at 4 p.m. The scrimmage, which is open to the public, will be held at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Junior wide receiver Ace Sanders has taken on a vocal leadership role that former top target Alshon Jeffery never did, wide receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. said.
“Ace and Bruce (Ellington), they talk a lot,” Spurrier Jr. said. “It’s a different group without Alshon out here. Alshon was a quiet guy. When the ball was snapped, he played the game, but when it wasn’t snapped, he wasn’t as vocal a guy as he could have been. Ace and Bruce are really different from that. Ace has really taken on that role of educating everybody and pulling them along. He’s doing a really good job for us.”
Senior Shaq Wilson, the starter at weakside linebacker, has heard a lot of praise in the first week of camp.
“I can’t say enough about Shaq Wilson,” linebackers coach Kirk Botkin said.
The more meaningful words, though, may have come from tailback Marcus Lattimore.
“I still look up to Shaq Wilson,” he said. “The first day of workouts my freshman year, he just told me, ‘Go hard, we are going to need you this year. Stay humble.’ He’s always been like a big brother to me.”