Earlier this week, South Carolina football coach Will Muschamp made it clear that all of the defensive linemen who signed with the 2018 class need to be ready to play as soon as possible.
“At the end of the day, we’ve got to continue to improve our quality depth up front, defensively,” Muschamp said. “All of the guys we signed are going to have opportunities to play immediately.”
Not that it’s different than any other position.
Everyone gets a fair chance to play. The Gamecocks third-year coach will roll with whomever gives his team the best chance to win. It’s just that there’s plenty of opportunity for snaps along the defensive front.
There are barely enough healthy scholarship tackles currently on campus to complete a two-deep depth chart, and it might require a little bit of mixing and matching.
Here’s why: Taylor Stallworth, a multiyear starter, is one of three players gone from 2017, which includes rotational tackle Ulric Jones. Plus, Dante Sawyer, who played his share of snaps between end and tackle last season, is gone after a relatively productive senior campaign.
What could this mean for South Carolina’s depth chart, a couple of weeks ahead of spring practice?
- Junior ‘Buck’ D.J. Wonnum: The top returning defensive linemen in tackles (57), tackles for loss (13) and sacks (6). Was voted a permanent team captain after last season. Plays a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker position, but looked to be at his best against the run and rushing the passer.
- Junior tackle Javon Kinlaw: The stats may not pop: 20 tackles, 2 tackles for loss and 3 pass breakups, but he developed throughout the course of Year 1 and became South Carolina’s most reliable defensive player from the 2017 signing class.
- Junior tackle Kobe Smith: Appeared in every game and was credited with 13 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss. Likely to enter spring practice as a starter alongside Kinlaw.
- Junior end Keir Thomas: Second among the team’s returning defensive linemen in tackles (38) and third in tackles for loss (4.5). Provides versatility because he can shift inside to play tackle.
- Junior ‘Buck’ Daniel Fennell: The primary backup to Wonnum, Fennell had 28 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 3 sacks.
- Freshman tackle M.J. Webb: The former 4-star end was moved inside after enrolling last January, then redshirted. He was voted as the top scout team defender.
- Sophomore end Aaron Sterling: As a freshman, Sterling showed flashes of promise, finishing with 23 tackles and 2 sacks.
The rest of the returning players
- Junior end Shameik Blackshear: Had 6 tackles over eight games. Has a chance to move up the depth chart and earn more playing time.
- Sophomore ‘Buck’ Brad Johnson: Mostly a special teams player in 2017, though Johnson did see a handful of defensive snaps and was credited with 5 tackles and a sack.
- Sophomore end Griffin Gentry: Did not play in 2017, after redshirting in 2016.
- Sophomore tackle Aaron Thompson: Would have had an opportunity to entrench himself in the rotation after redshirting in 2016 and not playing 2017, but he’ll be out this spring with a shoulder injury.
Enrolled for spring practice
- 4-star end Kingsley Enagbare
- 3-star end Tyreek Johnson
- 4-star tackle Rick Sandidge
- 3-star JUCO tackle Jabari Ellis
- 3-star offensive tackle Jesus Gibbs