South Carolina head football coach Will Muschamp made the case: Sacks are overstated these days.
Quick passing games, reliance on screens and simplified pre-snap reads have made it much harder for defenses to keep the ball in a quarterback’s hands long enough to get there. Instead, disruption or batted balls have to factor in.
A big part of that is pressure up the middle. That relies on good defensive tackles, and the Gamecocks coaches think they might have one to lead the way in senior Kelsey Griffin.
“Kelsey, I think he did an outstanding job this spring,” defensive line coach Lance Thompson said. “He’s a great kid. He works his tail off. Comes to work every day, again, attentive in meetings. Coachability is a big thing because in your philosophy of football, everybody wants to win the game, but you want to have guys that don’t lose the game.”
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This is a particular point Thompson likes to make. Twice at a Gamecock Club meeting in Georgetown, he trotted out the stat South Carolina lost five games in 2015 by less than a score.
That’s a big point of emphasis for a coaching staff because they feel if they could eliminate a couple more mistakes, that could swing things. Do that enough and a 3-9 team is an awful lot closer to respectability.
Griffin has always been brimming with talent, but this staff wanted a little bit more.
“Guys like Kelsey, who are smart, the key for him is doing what you’re coached to do, the way you’re coached to do it and understanding why it’s important to do it that way,” Thompson said. “He really did a good job and he’s a guy that emerged a little bit as a leader for us up front.”
Griffin was a four-star prospect, arguably the highest-rated recruit on the Gamecocks roster. He’s never started a game across three seasons, but has been in and out of the rotation.
He played in 11 games in 2015, showed well in the opener against North Carolina (1 1/2 sacks) and then was quiet before another burst against Florida (three tackles, 2 TFL, one sack).
The heart of the Gamecocks line is heavy on potential, with a few junior college faces, newcomer Kobe Smith, veteran Dante Sawyer and Taylor Stallworth, who started early last year and battled through a chest injury.
“With these guys, Kelsey’s a senior,” Thompson said. “Taylor’s a younger guy. Taylor’s had some injuries he’s come through, so we kind of limited his reps. But he shows the potential to be a really good player. We need to get his body weight down, his body composition where he’s got more functional strength and mass.”