When the South Carolina football team lost Buck defensive end D.J. Wonnum for a month with a ligament injury in his foot, it didn’t just lose a part-time cog in the defensive line rotation.
Wonnum was likely the most heavily used member of the defensive front. He started at the versatile Buck spot. He slid across the formation to play true defensive end in passing situations. He was reliable against a range of offenses.
And now he’s gone.
To fill his spots, Will Muschamp has a range of answers.
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“It will increase Bryson (Allen-Williams’) percentage of playing the Buck position,” Muschamp said. “Then you’ve got Aaron (Sterling) and Shameik (Blackshear) at the end position. Keir Thomas can go outside and play the end. Daniel Fennell can play the end. Then it increases Danny’s and Brad (Johnson’s) reps at the Buck.”
It’s worth breaking that down and looking at each player:
▪ Allen-Williams: He’s the primary Buck in spread situations, strongside linebacker against more power situations. Him playing more Buck likely means some time there against more run-heavy teams.
▪ Sterling/Blackshear: They both held down the end spot when Wonnum was at Buck, granted he played a fair amount at end. So it’s likely their work increases as Wonnum leaves snaps on the table.
▪ Thomas: He’s mostly been at tackle this season. If he bumps out, it gives the Gamecocks a sturdier presence at that spot than Sterling or Blackshear can provide. If Thomas helps there, it likely means the younger tackles, such as Rick Sandidge and Kingsley Enagbare have come along well.
▪ Fennell: He’s a jack of all trades. He plays, end, Buck and behind Allen-Williams at strongside linebacker. For a veteran who’s played a lot of spots, he didn’t get that much work against Georgia.
▪ Johnson: He got more work than you would think against Georgia, which says something about how far he’s come. He is the top backup at the Buck spot who doesn’t start elsewhere. He’s up to 250 pounds, and the staff liked how he came along last season. He’s not D.J. Wonnum, but he could grow into something interesting through the season.
So replacing Wonnum for at least a month will be a team effort, something everyone will chip in on.