South Carolina is a week into its spring practice schedule, as they try to move on from a disappointing 4-8 campaign in 2019. The Gamecocks defensive line depth will play a huge role in getting this team back on the winning track. Coach Will Muschamp has brought in plenty of talent up front, and the play in the trenches should be the strength of this team. SEC legend Tracy Rocker joined the staff this off-season to coach the defensive line. He will have plenty of talented players to work with.
Gamecocks Defensive Line Depth In 2020
There wasn’t much to celebrate last fall as South Carolina struggled in multiple areas. However the play along the line was as consistent and productive as anywhere else on the field. This unit will have to adjust to the losses of three starters from a season ago, as Javon Kinlaw, D.J. Wonnum, and Kobe Smith have all graduated. The last few recruiting cycles have bolstered the Gamecocks defensive line depth, and that should show this coming fall.
As Muschamp has rebuilt this roster since taking over the job five years ago, he has been forced to play a ton of young players. Now this team can reap the rewards of that early playing time, with multiple young players poised to step in for the seniors that departed. There are three names that will likely see the biggest jump in playing time, production, and also expectations. Zacch Pickens, Rick Sandidge, and Kingsley Enagbare all saw the field plenty, as parts of the rotation along the line. They will be relied upon even more heavily in the upcoming season.
Pickens was a named to the SEC All-Freshman team last fall, after a solid first year in Columbia. It can sometimes be hard to gauge a defensive tackle’s impact just based on numbers, because their responsibility goes beyond just tackles and sacks. Pickens is a big man with unique athletic ability for a man his size. As he continues to get stronger and develop his techniques, he could become the type of play maker inside that Kinlaw was the past two seasons. The talent is definitely there.
Sandidge is in the same boat as Pickens. He arrived as a prized recruit, but now need to step into a bigger role and become more productive. Those two should become a formidable tandem inside the defensive line for the Gamecocks. Enagbare took a big step as a sophomore, once he was moved to his more natural defensive end position. The thought entering 2019 was that he could be a factor rushing the passer off the edge. He has the burst and length to give opposing tackles fits. He only registered three and a half sacks last year, but he was much better against the run than expected.
Return on Investment
Aaron Sterling is the lone starter that returns along the front, but he is hardly the only player with game experience. The senior end is coming of his best season in garnet and black. He blossomed in 2019 with 10 tackles for loss and six sacks. His knack for making plays began to shine through, and he will be the leader of this unit moving forward.
The Gamecocks defensive line depth will also receive a boost as Keir Thomas will be back in 2020. An injury forced him to miss most of last season, and he took a medical redshirt. The versatile senior can play inside and outside along the line. While he may not have the overall talent of some of his fellow linemen, his experience and ability to play multiple spots will help this young group. Sterling and Thomas have both grown and improved over their time in Columbia. Now it will be up to them to lead this group up front for the Gamecocks.
Despite the poor results in 2019, South Carolina’s staff was able to keep hold of a very good class of signees that should help sooner rather than later. None of the reinforcements to the Gamecocks defensive line depth are here for the Spring. However, once they arrive this summer, they will have every opportunity to impress Coach Rocker and make their way onto the field. Five star rush end Jordan Burch was the jewel of the recruiting class. The 6-5, 275 pound end should see the field early and often in his Gamecock career. He was a top ten recruit nationally. South Carolina was able to fight off a late push from reigning national champion LSU to secure his commitment.
Inside the line, Burch’s high school teammate Alex Huntley and Conway native Tonka Hemingway will look to break into the rotation. Huntley has the size and skill to contribute early. His make up off the field has been praised by both his new coaches and those who led him in high school. Hemingway was rated as a four star, but he may need a year in the weight room to bulk up and develop before he is ready.
Football games are often determined by who can control the line of scrimmage. If South Carolina wants to rebound in 2020, they will lean on the guys in the trenches to push them forward. The Gamecocks defensive line depth has grown in numbers and talent the past few years. Now they need to begin to show that growth on Saturdays.