October 6, 2012; Columbia, SC, USA; Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Aaron Murray (11) is pressured by South Carolina Gamecocks defensive tackle J.T. Surratt (97) in the second half at Williams-Brice Stadium. South Carolina won 35-7. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-USA TODAY Sports

Gamecocks D-line minus Clowney ready for their close-up?

I won’t go into how the South Carolina Gamecocks are without their most important defensive player–Jadeveon Clowney–this season. That point has been addressed time and time again.

Instead, let’s focus on the future. Not too far into the future, but four weeks from Thursday when the Gamecocks and Texas A&M do battle. And there are some pretty good returnees and first-year players coming into the fold on the defensive line. With all due respect to them, they’re no Clowneys, but this group might just very well hold their own.

Two big guys will be plugging the middle for the Gamecocks–J.T. Surratt (6’2″, 310) and Gerald Dixon Jr. (6’3″, 323). Gerald Dixon (not Jr., the other one) rings in at “only” 274 pounds on one end while Darius English is a skin-and-bones 241 on the other. By comparison, Hardreck Walker (300) and Alonzo Williams (280), the projected Week One starters at DT for Texas A&M, don’t measure up quite that much in that department. (I’m interested in seeing how the Gamecocks match up against 310-pound Vandy NT Vince Taylor and 305-pound end Adam Butler.)

From an experience standpoint, English and Dixon are both redshirt sophomores, but the two of them have seen some time on the field. English made 19 tackles in 13 games in 2013, but was able to log some brief time in 2012 as a true freshman before getting injured and successfully lobbying for a redshirt. Dixon recorded 17 tackles in 2013–his redshirt freshman season–after sitting out 2011 and receiving another redshirt in 2012, even after playing three games, after being concussed.

Gamecocks Defensive Line Depth Chart

Starters in bold
DEGerald Dixon (R-SO)Mason Harris (R-JR)Devin Washington (R-FR)
DTJ.T. Surratt (R-SR)Philip Dukes (R-JR)Deon Green (R-SO)
DTGerald Dixon Jr. (R-JR)Abu Lamin (R-SO)Kelsey Griffin (SO)
DEDarius English (R-SO)David Johnson (R-FR)Cedric Cooper (R-JR)

Therein lies a problem: they’ve seen brief game action. Dixon, Jr. and Surratt come in as having logged the most time among the foursome, and Surratt is the “old man” as he enters his fifth year. Problem #2: health. When you’re getting two medical redshirts, you’re (a) thanking the NCAA for showing a little patience while you get yourself back on track and (b) hoping that you can keep injury-free the rest of the way out. Dixon, with past concussion history, could very well be a hit away from another one.

Gerald Dixon Jr. (323 pounds) weighs in as the biggest member of the Gamecocks' defensive line. Mandatory Credit: Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

Gerald Dixon Jr. (323 pounds) weighs in as the biggest member of the Gamecocks’ defensive line. Mandatory Credit: Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

Problem #3 lies in the fact that this group will be counted on to replace a lot of production. The Gamecocks lost 111 tackles, 33.5 TFLs, and 21 sacks from a year ago in Clowney, Kelcy Quarles, and Chaz Sutton combined. Surratt chipped in 33 tackles, four TFLs and a sack a year ago; he’ll need to do much better than that in 2014 as the leader of this line.

Can this group produce at a high level? Sure. Can they fully replace the lost numbers from 2013? Probably not. Either way, this is a group with much to prove. And in four weeks, they’ll be able to take the first steps in doing just that.

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