Josh Kendall

Gamecocks’ defensive line must push back in 2016

South Carolina defensive end Marquavius Lewis (8) had 45 tackles in 2015, including 3 sacks, 4.5 tackles for loss and 6 quarterback hurries.
South Carolina defensive end Marquavius Lewis (8) had 45 tackles in 2015, including 3 sacks, 4.5 tackles for loss and 6 quarterback hurries. gmelendez@thestate.com

South Carolina starts its first practice under Will Muschamp on March 15. The State will take the 15 days of the month leading up to that to look at 15 “keys” for the Gamecocks as they prepare for Muschamp’s first season.

South Carolina’s sorry sack numbers last season are well chronicled. The Gamecocks finished No. 99 in the nation in sacks with 1.67 per game, but it’s probably more helpful to consider the problem in terms of overall tackles-for-loss.

The Gamecocks finished 102nd in the nation in TFL, meaning it wasn’t just quarterbacks they weren’t stopping behind the line of scrimmage. Almost never knocking anyone backward makes it tough to force fourth downs consistently, which makes it tough to get opponents off the field, etc.

New head coach Will Muschamp and new defensive line coach Lance Thompson are veterans known for their defensive coaching ability, and they’re going to need all of that experience and acumen to get this year’s group on the right track.

There are reasons to believe second-year defensive ends Marquavius Lewis and Boosie Whitlow can be effective pass rushers if South Carolina can establish a presence at defensive tackle. Spring will be about identifying who that might be. Taylor Stallworth and Kelsey Griffin seem to be the most likely options. (Dante Sawyer will miss spring practice with an injury.)

4.5 The team-high for sacks in 2015, and that was from Darius English. Skai Moore led the Gamecocks in tackles-for-loss with 6.5.

Defensive line spring roster

The story this spring will be which of the second-year players (think Marquavius Lewis, Boosie Whitlow and Dexter Wideman) can take the step to the next level. Dante Sawyer will miss the spring after having shoulder surgery. Also, Darius English is now listed on USC’s roster as an outside linebacker.

▪  Kelsey Griffin, Sr., 6-2, 302

▪  Abu Lamin, Sr., 6-3, 291

▪  Marquavius Lewis, Sr., 6-4, 254

▪  Ulric Jones, Jr., 6-6, 284

▪  Dante Sawyer, Jr., 6-3, 289

▪  Taylor Stallworth, Jr., 6-2, 302

▪  Boosie Whitlow, So., 6-3, 234

▪  Shameik Blackshear, So., 6-4, 250

▪  Dexter Wideman, Fr., 6-3, 280

▪  Kobe Smith, Fr., 6-2, 294

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