South Carolina defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Chaz Sutton practiced Tuesday. Gamecocks defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward doesn’t know how many more times this season he’ll be able to say that.
Clowney and Sutton, who are battling foot injuries, will be day-to-day for practices the remainder of the season, Ward said, as they and the coaching staff try to balance the need for preparation with the need to have them healthy and as pain-free as possible on Saturdays.
The nagging injuries to Clowney and Sutton illustrate a problem Ward has had throughout the first three games of the season, an inability to develop a consistent lineup because of injuries throughout the defense.
“You always want to develop continuity and have the same 11 guys that are starters playing, but it’s something we’re just going to have to deal with,” Ward said.
Weakside linebacker Cedrick Cooper (elbow) and safety Kadetrix Marcus (shoulder), both starters, have missed at least one game because of injury. Starting cornerback Victor Hampton (foot) has missed practice time and also had to rely on a walking boot at times. Starting defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles has had to leave the field several times with minor injuries and missed Tuesday’s practice because of a neck sprain.
The No. 12 Gamecocks (2-1, 1-1 SEC) don’t play again until Sept. 28 against Central Florida, and this weekend’s bye comes at a “great time,” Clowney said after Saturday’s game against Vanderbilt.
“I need it to get my foot back together,” he said.
Clowney (bone spurs) and Sutton (mid foot sprain) likely will wear walking boots when they are not on the field much of the fall, Ward said. The Gamecocks will try to manage the players’ practice time wisely, Ward said.
Clowney “goes through individual (practice work) so we’ll do a good job of making him do a lot of fundamental stuff, which is good for him, and then we’ll try to get him in the right team stuff,” Ward said.
Sutton will do his best to get in as much practice time as possible, he said. Clowney was not made available for interviews Tuesday.
“Every practice is important, so I want to get out here and do as much as I can — as much as my foot will allow me to do,” he said. “I am out here every day like the rest of these guys trying to get better.”
South Carolina is ninth in the SEC in scoring defense, allowing 25.3 points per game, and seventh in total defense, allowing 365.7 yards per game. The Gamecocks, who have played three BCS conference opponents this year, lead the SEC in sacks with 10, and Clowney and Quarles are tied for third in the conference in sacks with two each.
The Gamecocks expect to have all their defenders available for the UCF game, but developing a chemistry without having a full unit on the practice field for an extended period of time will be a challenge throughout the season, Sutton said.
“When you are missing key guys on the defense, it’s always a distraction or it’s always a stress to the defense,” he said. “We all have to come together and play. We need to be out here at practice together and be in games with each other because, once we get a feel for each other going through camp and spring and all the workouts and everything, everybody gets a good feeling for each other and we can just keep continuing to get better as a unit.”