As we draw closer and closer to National Signing Day, it seems like Lorenzo "Whammy" Ward, the University of South Carolina's new defensive coordinator, has taken up residence in North Georgia - burning up the rubber from Atlanta to Tucker, from Tucker to McDonough, and back to Atlanta again.
Whammy hasn't camped out in the Empire State of the South simply to shop along Peachtree Avenue, or to sight-see in the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains. Instead, he's been hunting big game - and the trophy of choice appears to be at least one of three, top-flight defensive end prospects - Josh Dawson (Tucker), Kenderius Whitehead (Atlanta) and Davlin Tomlison (McDonough).
Why the emphasis on defensive ends? Are these simply the best guys left open on our board? Or do we have a pressing need to bring another top DE to the Palmetto Proving Grounds? Based on Whammy's sojourns across the Savannah River, the answer seems really clear - we need another pass rusher. And we need him now.
During the 2011 season, the Gamecocks had nine DE's on the roster - seniors Melvin Ingram and Byron McKnight, juniors Devin Taylor and Aldrick Fordham, sophomores Chaz Sutton and Jamal Hall and freshmen Jadaveon Clowney, Gerald "Little G" Dixon and Mason Harris.
Ingram and McKnight have graduated and finished their football careers at Carolina.
Of the remaining DEs expected to return for 2012, only Taylor, Clowney and Sutton saw any significant p.t. at DE, and Clowney and Sutton were back-ups (yes - even the vaunted Jadeveon).
Even though listed as a DE, Fordham - who is a bit undersized but a smart player - primarily lined up at defensive tackle. Hall was a walk-on who had had no stats for 2011; Little G Dixon and Harris - both three star rated 2011 recruits - redshirted.
Consequently, that leaves just three returning DE veterans (Taylor, Clowney and Sutton) plus Fordham - who can play DT, DE or LB - and these four will likely comprise the two-deep going into spring ball, with Dixon and Harris competing in the mix. That is dangerously thin for such a physical and important position; a season-ending injury, suspension or transfer would leave us teetering on the edge of disaster - two such losses would be nothing less than catastrophic to the defense. Even if everyone remains healthy, as Gamecock Man recently commented, we're potentially facing a DE numbers deficit by 2013-2014, with Taylor exhausting his eligibility next year and Clowney likely to depart for the NFL after the 2013 season.
Keep reading after The Jump.
In terms of the current 2012 recruiting class, we cannot count on much immediate help. Only two DE have made commitments to this point - Darius English of Powder Springs, GA (247 4 stars, ESPN 3 stars, Scout 3 stars, Rivals 3 stars) and Jhaustin Thomas of Decatur, Georgia (247, ESPN, Scout, Rivals 3 stars). Both English and Thomas are solid prospects, but absent some sort of cosmic jump in their athletic prowess or technique, neither is going to be ready to go against SEC OL in 2012. In a perfect world, both would - and likely should- redshirt. Additionally, the word on Jhaustin "Dooby" Thomas is that he has work to do to qualify academically so we may have to wait for him to go the j.c. route.
USC had previously put heavy emphasis on recruiting both DE Tyriq McCord of Tampa (a consensus 4 star across the board) and DE Jonathan Bullard of Shelby, NC (Rivals/Scout 5 stars and ESPN/247 4 stars). Both of these young men had the upside to play as true freshmen and we had hoped to land at least one of them; unfortunately, McCord picked Miami and Bullard gave his pledge to Florida.
Based on their recruiting ranks, Dawson, Whitehead and Tomlinson appear to be more in the immediate impact-player range than either English or Thomas (which is not to say English and Thomas might not be just as good or better over the long-haul - this analysis is limited to their ability to make a significant contribution in 2012).
Dawson is rated as 4 star by Scout and Rivals (ESPN and 247 score him as a high 3).
Whitehead is a 4 star per ESPN and 247 (a 3 star per Rivals and Scout).
Davlin Tomlinson plays DT at his high school, but his frame and size (6'3"-270), plus his athleticism [he is a state champion wrestler] make him look like a natural DE. 247, Rivals and Scout tag him as a 4 star (ESPN ranks him as a 3 star).
We need to be realistic that it's a long-shot to pick up any of these "new" targets. Dawson still considers himself a Vanderbilt commitment. Tomlinson has long been rumored to favor Georgia Tech and Bama. As recently as this week, Whitehead was publicly stating he had narrowed his choices to Clemson and NC State. It's actually a very good sign of Whammy Ward's recruiting ability - magnified by his recent promotion from position coach to D.C. - that he can get these three to consider South Carolina as a serious possibility (and to at least schedule official visits) this late in the game. With the numbers situation being what they are, we can probably only take one of these troika no matter what.
In any event, the answer to our question of the importance of getting another DE is a resounding 'yes'. It won't be the end of the world if we fall short on Dawson, Whitehead or Tomlinson, of course. And there's always the chance that an unheralded DT or LB on the team might be moved to DE.
But all things being equal, we need to land a third, pure DE for 2012, and he needs to have the upside to compete for playing time in the fall.
You know it. Whammy knows it, too.