USC Gamecocks Football

New-look defensive line remains a work in progress

South Carolina will replace three starters on the defensive line this season, including All-Americans Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles.

The transition in the trenches that started in the spring will continue into the summer, defensive line coach Deke Adams said.

"This spring, with so many young guys who didn't play for us last year, we had to find out who can help us. I think we've done that," Adams said. "We're going to continue to get better and hopefully go into the fall and have a good nucleus when we get there."

Adams worked with more than a dozen scholarship players from March to April to see who will help fill the void left by Clowney, Quarles and Chaz Sutton.

A collective effort is required for there to be no drop-off in production, according to defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward.

"We don't have the pass rusher, the guy that can just break down an offensive line and beat guys the way we have in the past," Ward said. "I feel like we have enough guys that, if they play together as a unit, we'll be fine."

Redshirt sophomores Darius English and Gerald Dixon are on track to be the starters at defensive end, Adams said.

"They've done a really good job," Adams said. "Gerald Dixon came on as the season went last year and did a really good job for us. Darius has had a quiet but good spring. He's up to about 245 to 250 now. He's holding his weight. He's being able to hold ground a lot better than he has in the past."

Among the second-year players who made an impression this spring was David Johnson, who recorded a sack in April's spring game. The redshirt freshman got his first extended look at defensive end in the spring after signing as a linebacker and moving to the scout team after fall camp last season.

"He had a really good spring," Adams said. "He's done some things to really catch my eye. He's definitely going to be able to help us. He's got to continue to get better technique-wise."

Coaches praised redshirt sophomore Deon Green's effort from this spring and rewarded the tackle with the most improved defensive lineman award at halftime of the spring game. Newcomer Abu Lamin was named the Rex Enright Defensive Player of the Spring.

"He definitely can help us," Ward said of Lamin. "He's very athletic. He's God-gifted strong. He'll do a great job giving us a push inside when we do play with four down linemen."

The Gamecocks will continue to start with a 4-3 alignment on defense but will show a 3-4 look more often this season to take advantage of the depth at linebacker.

Senior defensive tackle J.T. Surratt, the lone returning starter on the line, said he was pleased with the progress of all the younger players in the spring. Chemistry was not an issue, he said.

"All of them are coming out with the same attitude knowing they have an opportunity to come out and play for us," Surratt said. "The majority of guys, even though they haven't played as much, they've still been around. The chemistry is going to be there."

USC will add some freshmen to the mix this summer with Taylor Stallworth and Blake McClain. Dexter Wideman and Jhaustin Thomas are still completing academic requirements, and their enrollment plans are not set in stone. Signees Dante Sawyer and Kalan Ritchie are already at junior college.

The spring was a good start for the defensive line's new look, Adams said, but there's still more work to be done.

"I don't think you can totally rely on just 15 days to get guys ready," Adams said. "We know the guys who we think can help us. Having a really good summer will help lead us into the fall. We've got a long way to go. It's a good thing we don't have to play tomorrow."