South Carolina football coach Will Muschamp will not admit he has enough depth up front on defense.
He could have everyone returning from a group with a solid mix of experience and recruiting talent and be adding a four- and five-star recruit each, and still he will tell you this is not enough. He did as much last December, just before South Carolina’s bowl game.
Now the group has changed a bit. Former blue chip lineman Shameik Blackshear moved on, as did four-star freshman Josh Belk. And yet, Muschamp’s righthand man, Travaris Robinson, is more than pleased with the group he’s got.
“That’s our most talented unit,” Robinson said. “We’re finally at the point we have depth, and that’s the one thing we’ve been lacking the last three years. Recruited the right guys. We’ve got the right guys in the building and we’re excited about it.”
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The first USC team under the current staff was scraping for bodies up front. The second was solid, but reliant on its top line.
Last year’s team opened with a pair of freshmen in the defensive tackle rotation and lost key pieces through much of the season.
The team has four opening day starters back in D.J. Wonnum, Kobe Smith, Javon Kinlaw and Aaron Sterling. Beyond them, the cupboard includes former blue chip recruits in Brad Johnson, JJ Enagbare, Rick Sandidge and added a couple more in five-star Zacch Pickens and four-star Joseph Anderson.
That’s quite a group on paper, and more than a few have had moments in the spotlight. The questions now are, how many can be brought to their potential and how can that anchor South Carolina’s defense?
New line coach John Scott Jr. called that group the foundation, saying everything starts with them. Last season, USC was 101st nationally in how often it got to the quarterback and ranked 119th by allowing 53.1 percent of opponent rushes to go for 5 or more yards.
But starting from that point means a lot of room for improvement. Will Muschamp wanted to make a change in terms of coaching that position and had already started by reaching out to Scott to replace Lance Thompson (who helped build that line) as early as the first weekend of December.
Now that trove of talent is in new hands, and his coordinator likes what he’s seeing.
“I’m excited about coach Scott,” Robinson said. “He’s done a great job of just bringing some of his thinking to our room and sometimes you need some fresh ideas. He was able to give us some of those.”