COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina’s freshmen defensive linemen are still a work in progress, but coach Will Muschamp is pleased with the direction they’re headed.
The unit as a whole, not just the freshmen, have made strides since his first season as Gamecocks head coach kicked off in September.
“Our defensive line, have we improved, yes? We’ve improved,” Muschamp said. “But we’re still not to be confused with good.”
Freshmen have played a role in the gradual improvement along the defensive front.
Tackle Keir Thomas, who’s started two of the nine games he’s appeared in, has recorded 16 tackles, two sacks and forced a fumble.
“Keir is about 265, 268 playing 3-technique, which is hard sometimes in our league,” Muschamp said. “But he continues to come on and do a nice job.”
Fellow tackle Kobe Smith played more against Missouri than he has all season. And Muschamp said it was the best he’s played during his short college career.
“We got caught in a situation where, with Missouri, you can’t sub if they don’t sub and they didn’t sub at all,” Muschamp said. “You get into a situation where you start first-and-10, it doesn’t matter, because those guys are playing the series – you can’t get a guy in the game, so when you start to sub, they go fast and catch you in a substitution, even if it’s on your hash-mark.”
D.J. Wonnum, the primary backup at the ‘Buck’ position, is first among all South Carolina freshmen with 20 tackles.
“Dennis Wonnum continues to improve throughout the year,” Muschamp said. “Dennis has also been a huge contributor on special teams, so that’s been a pleasant shot, too.”
Any further production from the three freshmen will certainly help as South Carolina looks to become bowl eligible on Saturday against Florida.
“Our guys work and they’ve seen the improvement,” Muschamp said. “They’ve seen, as a player, the improvement. And that’s one of things our defensive staff, and offensive staff, do a really nice job of pulling out tape from Week 1, 2 and 3 and showing them where they are now, as far as hand-placement, pad-level, striking and playing behind their pads.
“Players need to see improvement, to continue to be encouraged to put the work in. Our staff has done a nice job of that.”