South Carolina’s coaches are looking for things to get excited about on their defensive front.
Junior Dante Sawyer has a couple of them.
For defensive line coach Lance Thompson, it’s “an edge.”
“He’s a guy that has an edge to him, has some toughness, and hopefully we can put him in some situations to make some plays this fall,” Thompson said.
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For head coach Will Muschamp, it’s “a little twitch.”
“We are not a fast twitch team up front and we have to get our best rushers in the game,” Muschamp said. “Right now it would seem he would be one of those four whether that’s inside or outside. He has certainly been a guy who has shown a little twitch on the edge and the ability to rush the passer.”
Whether it’s due to mental or physical traits, it’s clear the Gamecocks are cautiously optimistic about the impact of Sawyer on a defensive line with plenty to prove in 2016. The 6-foot-3, 275-pound Suwanee, Ga., native played mostly at defensive tackle in 2015 but has been moved to defensive end this year to better take advantage of the “twitch” Muschamp has seen.
Sawyer played in 11 games last year, starting four, and finishing with 17 tackles, including 2.5 sacks, which was the third-highest total on the team. Sawyer was a four-star high school prospect at North Gwinnett High in 2013 but failed to qualify academically and spent the 2014 season at East Mississippi Community College, where he had 10.5 sacks and helped the Lions to the national junior college title before being ranked the No. 6 junior college prospect in the country by 247Sports.com.
He, too, is cautiously optimistic about the impact he can have for the Gamecocks this season.
“Just going to play how I know I can play. Just going to do what I can do,” he said. “How our defense is going to play is how I’m going to play. If we play good then I’m going to play good, that’s how I feel.”
Asked to expand on his potential for the season, Sawyer declined. He will acknowledge he’s a big fan of the new defensive scheme installed by Muschamp and first-year defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson.
“Just for the simple fact that I get to play outside again because that’s where I really like playing,” he said, “but I’ll just play wherever they ask me to.”
Sawyer has been playing catch up with the new system this fall because he missed all of spring practice following shoulder surgery. The Gamecocks will be able to use him in more places and ways once he’s more comfortable in the system, Robinson said.
“He can do some different things for us,” Robinson said. “He gives us a lot of variety in what we do. He’s doing a good job.”
For now, Sawyer said, the Gamecocks coaches are mostly preaching one thing to him – get to the quarterback.
“That’s his main focus from the defensive line that we want to interfere with their quarterback,” he said. “We want to get in his way. We are going to hit him, we’re going to hit him, we’re going to hit him.”
Sawyer is as restrained in his talk of South Carolina’s team prospects this season as he is when talking about his own potential.
“We know what we can do inside this football team,” he said. “From the outside, we’re not really worried about what other people are saying or all these predictions. We’re just worried about what we’re going to do.”