There was a myriad of problems with South Carolina’s run defense a year ago.
“Run defense is a composition of everybody,” defensive line coach Lance Thompson said. “Defense is 11 guys doing their job, fitting their gaps and then having overlap with guys being able to get off blocks and go make plays maybe they are not supposed to make.”
Those are the things that were obvious to the coaching staff, but there was one thing that was obvious to anyone with working eyes in 2016. The Gamecocks simply lacked the size up front to put together an effective SEC run defense.
Enter Javon Kinlaw. The 6-foot-6, 326-pound Goose Creek native signed with South Carolina this year after spending one season at Jones County Junior College, and that size “is why we signed Kinlaw,” Thompson said.
“You don’t play that many two-back run teams, but when you do, you have to have a guy you can put in there and anchor and have some girth,” Thompson said.
Kinlaw has not been made available to the media since his arrival on campus.
“He provides instant girth,” defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson said.
South Carolina finished ninth in the SEC and 90th in the nation in run defense last year, allowing 203.23 yards per game on the ground.
“We need someone who can hold the point,” Robinson said. “When you look at some of the games where we had the ball run down our throat a little bit, that would be what you look at. We just couldn’t hang in there because we didn’t have the girth.”
Kinlaw immediately became the Gamecocks’ biggest defensive lineman, fairly easily topping senior defensive tackle Ulric Jones (6-foot-5, 312 pounds).
“He’s just a big guy, big body, hard to move when he plays low,” Thompson said of Kinlaw.
How quickly Kinlaw will be able to join Jones and the rest of the defensive line rotation is an unknown at this point.
“He’s learning the game,” Thompson said. “He’s really young in ball, but he’s got a really good attitude about it. Obviously, conditioning is a part of it. We are going to bring him around slow. We don’t have any expectations for him. We are not going to put him in a pressure situation. We are going to be really patient with him and work him hard and let him come along at his pace.”
The Gamecocks’ veteran defensive linemen didn’t get a lot bigger in the offseason, but they did get stronger, which also should beef up the run defense, Thompson said.
“We are about the same size body weight wise,” Thompson said. “Playing up front is about being able to strain and muscular endurance because it’s physically demanding. It’s demanding, and they have done a good job working.”