How Gamecocks' defense stacks up
I was talking this week with South Carolina Gamecocks defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward, and we both laughed about two-thirds of the way through a 15-minute conversation.
Why? Because I hadn't brought up Jadeveon Clowney to that point.
Imagine that, right? The defensive player on the tip of everyone's tongues, and we were talking about everyone else. The reason: It takes more than one player on an 11-man unit to be successful in the SEC, even if that one player is a potential Heisman finalist and an essential lock to go No. 1 overall in April's NFL draft.
I was curious to talk broadly with Ward about a group that, Clowney notwithstanding, will look different after the Gamecocks lost five players to the draft in the past two years. That includes two 2012 first-rounders in lineman Melvin Ingram and corner Stephon Gilmore and a 2013 second-rounder in hard-hitting safety D.J. Swearinger.
Ward was extremely upbeat about the players filling those roles as well as the younger prospects who will play rotationally.
That's important, seeing as how the defense has been a large reason South Carolina has won a school-record 11 games each of the past two seasons. (See chart at right.) The D also will play an essential role in the Gamecocks' run at an SEC title in 2013. Although the offense returns most of its key pieces from last year's above-average unit (fifth in the SEC in points per drive), it is the performance of the players on defense not named Clowney who will determine how far this team goes.
There's reason to believe this group is ready. South Carolina is a program that, through recruiting and development, has risen to a point of sustainability. That wasn't the case when I started covering the team in 2007 for the Charleston, S.C., newspaper, nor when Ward joined the staff as the secondary coach in 2009. But it has gradually become reality, even if an SEC title and a BCS berth have so far eluded still-energetic coach Steve Spurrier and the Gamecocks.
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