The South Carolina Gamecocks have one of the best defensive lines in the SEC. When the season is over, they might have one of the best in the nation.
Everyone knows about Jadeveon Clowney. He came into the league with more hype than any freshman in recent memory and delivered. Clowney had eight sacks last season on top of 36 tackles, 12 tackles for loss, and five forced fumbles (a couple of which were returned for TDs). If he had a weakness last year it was his ability to defend the run. It wasn’t a big weakness, though, and by the end of the year, Spurrier left him in games more and more often on running downs. This year, he’ll be on the field the entire game except when he’s tired. The true sophomore will also see time at middle linebacker.
The other end, red-shirt senior Devin Taylor, was largely overshadowed by Clowney’s greatness last year. Like Melvin Ingram of a year ago, I expect Taylor to dominate at times and find himself in the first round of next year’s NFL draft. In 39 career games, Taylor has 116 tackles, 27 tackles for loss and 15.5 sacks. Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward will also drop him into coverage at times, where he has ran an interception back for a touchdown before.
On the inside of the line lurks another overshadowed monster, sophomore DT Kelcy Quarles. He started the last six games of the 2011 season and in the 12 games he played, Quarles 28 tackles and 2.0 tackles for loss. He plugged up holes against the run, took pressure off Clowney and narrowly missed out on a number of sacks. He’s a fan favorite, and one of the most animated players on the team.
Red-shirt senior Byron Jerideau is the “other” defensive tackle. The 6’1″ 316 lb Green Pond, SC native played in all 12 games last year and finished the season with seven tackles, one sack and a recovered fumble. He also played some on the offensive line, but will undoubtedly play the entire year at DT this season.
USC isn’t great on the defensive line just because of its starters, though. Aldrick Fordam, Clowney’s backup, played mostly on the inside last year, and has played in 32 games through three seasons. He had seven solo tackles last year, one tackle for loss and one fumble recovery. He has a lot of room to grow, because he will be the primary defensive end when Clowney is at linebacker.
Red-shirt junior Chaz Sutton will back up Taylor this season. He had 13 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss last year.
The two backup DTs, are red-shirt sophomore J.T. Surratt and red-shirt freshman Gerald Dixon, Jr.
With as many big bodies as Carolina has in the middle, and with the two great pass rushers they have outside, the Gamecocks defensive line will be the strength of the defense.