If you’re reading this, you know what this preview means. FOOTBALL SEASON IS UPON US. With the days counting down, we want you, the fan, to know what’s really going on. We want you to be so up-to-date with all of the players, both starters and reserves, that even the noted Gamecock die-hard Paul Finebaum gives you a look of utter amazement. We all know how important the defensive line is. And if you didn’t before, you certainly will. You must know these guys, as a strong season from them could punch our ticket to a bowl game. So read this, and let your football IQ raise with each sentence.
Since this is in the midst of Fall Camp, this is subject to change. However, the players currently slated to start are:
Marquavius Lewis: Senior, Defensive End
Lewis might be the most talented player on this defense, and could showcase that if he puts it all together mentally. He’s had a year to undergo the rough transition from JUCO to the SEC, and should double or even triple his sack total (3.0) from last year. For the second year in a row, he won the Defensive Player of the Spring, so he’s definitely showing what he can do in practice. If he can do that on Saturday, then we could be looking at a HUGE improvement to our defensive effort.
Daniel Fennell: Redshirt Freshman, Defensive End
Since there hasn’t been a recent depth chart released, this could have changed by now. A lot of eyebrows, including my own, were raised when Fennell got the job over the move experienced Darius English, but I trust Muschamp on this sort of thing. Fennell redshirted last season, so nobody outside of the coaches and credentialed media members (sigh) know what he can do. He’s got decent size for a pure pass rusher at 6’2, 235, but I am concerned about him against the run. With a new coach, every player gets a clean slate, and Fennell has apparently flashed enough talent to win the job. Due to his relative obscurity to most people, this could be a surprise, yet to be determined of what nature that surprise will be.
Kelsey Griffin: Senior, Defensive Tackle
Coming out of high school, Griffin was the #12 DT and number 100 overall on the ESPN 150. That talent hasn’t yet shown up on the stat sheet, but with 2.5 sacks as a rotational guy last year, Griffin has the potential to blow up in his senior season as a starter. At 302 pounds, Griffin also has the size to stuff the run on the early downs. A true three down player, Griffin could help kickstart the interior pressure of this Gamecock D.
SIDENOTE: Griffin is a typical example of the premier recruits brought in during the Spurrier era that hasn’t exactly lived up to expectations. However, if Muschamp’s defensive acumen and staff is as good as its reputation, we could be seeing pleasant surprise breakouts by players like Griffin.
Taylor Stallworth: Junior, Defensive Tackle
At 6’2" and 310 pounds, Stallworth is a true 1-technique nose tackle. With the size and power to plug up running lanes, he opens up holes for linebackers like TJ Holloman and Bryson Allen-Williams to step up and make tackles. Although he won’t fill up the stat sheet, his disruptive ability really opens up the game for the defense, allowing them to control the line of scrimmage. Although he will never be much of a sack artist, Stallworth is vital to the success of the team’s run defense.
Boosie Whitlow: Sophomore, Defensive End
It was a surprise not seeing Whitlow named as a starter, as he was certainly in the mix with Darius English (More on him later), and Daniel Fennel for the defensive end spot opposite Lewis. Whitlow showed flashes of sheer dominance last season, and if he can master the painstakingly elusive trait that is consistency, he has the talent to be a gamewrecker. His first step is among the quickest in the SEC, and if he can develop another pass-rush move or two, he could be posting double-digit sack totals. Although it will take some time for Whitlow to master the art of pass-rushing, his junior year could be a special one for the DE out of Opelika. This season look for him to continue to improve, making fans state-wide drool over his potential.
Darius English: Senior, Defensive End
A much-needed bright spot on the defense last year, English led the team with 4.5 sacks. Although he’ll need to work to regain the starting job from youngsters like Whitlow and Fennel, he has the experience and skill set to be a constant threat for quarterbacks across the league. It would be disappointing to see a talented player like English end up on the bench, but if Muschamp thinks that the young blood is the better option, I’ll trust the process.
In order for a successful season, the defense MUST set the tone, and that starts up front. If this group can improve on its mediocre season as a whole last year, things could really start to turn around, and quite quickly.