To a degree, South Carolina defensive line coach John Scott Jr. could measure his youngest charges in “Ohs” and “Oooos.”
He’d joined a staff that brought in four-star defensive line recruit Joseph Anderson and five-star Zacch Pickens. Both signed early. Both were fully involved in spring practice, a petri dish of sorts for a young player getting a first taste of facing college opposition.
It means there were some better days, some that showed how far they have to go.
“There were some days where you’re like, ‘Oh, he’s swimming today.’” Scott said. “And there were days after getting it a little bit where you’re like, ‘Oooo, that’s pretty good.’”
He praised their athleticism and pop, and South Carolina will likely not be short on that in the defensive front. The pair project to be in the mix of what the staff believes is a deep defensive front.
But first, they had to truly experience that this isn’t high school anymore.
“It was great for them, as we always say, to go in there and get your nose bloody a little bit,” Scott said. “Get your feet wet and acclimated to SEC big-time football up front, and I think both those kids are going to be fine.”
Anderson made a pair of tackles and broke up a pass in the spring game. Pickens registered no stats, but did get the first snaps with the second-team defense.
Pickens came to Columbia as the most decorated recruit since Jadeveon Clowney. The 6-foot-3, 293-pounder was rated the No. 8 recruit in the country by the 247 Sports composite rankings off an 87-tackle, six-sack senior season, which also saw him play running back.
Anderson wasn’t quite as highly rated (No. 134 nationally), but at 6-foot-3, 270 pounds could be a factor at the team’s big end spot. He had 60 tackles, 16 for loss, and three sacks as a senior, anchoring a dominant state championship defense and battling through an elbow injury.
The South Carolina defensive line took a step back last season after a solid 2017 campaign. Injuries were a factor, especially at the end spots, as was needing to rely on a pair of true freshman tackles at points.
At the very least, the team won’t be relying on those admitted talented freshmen. This spring they got their first taste of 700-pound power conference double teams. On some days, they got those “Oooos” the coaches want, on others they looked like players getting that first taste of life at this level.
“When you get doubled in the SEC, you can’t hide,” Scott said.