The point is clear: South Carolina’s defensive line needs to improve if the defense is to take a step forward.
South Carolina football coach Will Muschamp said his team came into this part of the season, the long divide between spring and August practice, without a sense of who exactly the full group on the defensive line is. In spring, the staff looks at something else.
“You see some flashes, especially from some young players, that get you excited,” Muschamp said. “But they’re got to do it consistently well, and that’s something we’ve struggled with on the defensive line is consistent play.”
The Gamecocks return what projects to be a starting line in tackles Taylor Stallworth and Ulric Jones, end Dante Sawyer and Buck D.J. Wonnum. Versatile sophomore tackle/end Keir Thomas was in the rotation in 2016, and tackle Kobe Smith got scattered snaps.
Muschamp said before spring that Smith’s and Aaron Thompson’s growth could be key inside (he also mentioned the now-departed Stephon Taylor). Buck Daniel Fennell was talked up before last season and got somewhat similar treatment this spring. End Shameik Blackshear got his share of work in spring.
Then there are the newcomers. Tackles Javon Kinlaw and M.J. Webb, end Aaron Sterling, Buck Brad Johnson and a set of linebackers could find their way into hybrid roles.
The Gamecocks want to go at least eight deep. With five players at least somewhat proven and eight-plus candidates, there will be options.
“We need to get into fall camp and find us a rotation,” Muschamp said. “I do feel like we’ve got some ability at the position. I just don’t think we’re as deep as we need to be.”