South Carolina football: Young d-line needs to grow up in a hurry

COLUMBIA, S.C. – South Carolina football defensive line coach Lance Thompson remembers the days when he didn’t need to rely on freshmen and sophomores.

Unfortunately, for the second-year assistant coach and the rest of the Gamecock defense, those days are a thing of the past, at least for now.

“The d-line is a developmental position,” Thompson said. “I remember in the good, old days you had a d-linemen that played two years in a five-year career and successful as a player and you’re happy, but we don’t have that luxury.”

South Carolina returns three senior defensive linemen in tackle Ulric Jones, end Dante Sawyer and tackle Taylor Stallworth. With the exception of redshirt sophomore end Shameik Blackshear, who’s missed a chunk of preseason camp time with a concussion, the rest of the Gamecocks defensive linemen are first- or second-year players in the program.

Sophomores Keir Thomas and Kobe Smith will contribute from the end and tackle spots, respectively, though Thomas could play inside in specific situations.

At 6-foot-6, 326 pounds, the South Carolina coaches hope junior college transfer Javon Kinlaw will one day emerge as a stalwart inside. The sophomore tackle, as Thompson pointed out, is a “big body” who can hold down the ‘3’ technique.

“Hard to move when he plays low,” Thompson said. “We need to get him in shape. He’s learning the game. He’s really young in ball, but he’s got a good attitude about it. But, obviously, conditioning is a part of it.

“We’re going to bring him along slowly. We don’t have any expectations for him. We’re not going to put him in a pressure situation. We’ll be really patient with him, work him hard [and] let him come along at his own pace.”

Javon Kinlaw has turned heads during his first few months on campus. (Hale McGranahan/SEC Country)

Freshman end Aaron Sterling is another first-year player who’s expected to see action this season. His emergence has been a “really pleasant surprised,” according to Thompson.

“A little bit like D.J. [Wonnum] was last year,” Thompson said. “Very instinctive, great attitude, works hard, super kid. Really excited about Aaron.”

Freshman tackle M.J. Webb enrolled in January, but it would appear that he’s on track to redshirt this season.

“Right now, we’re playing at left and right, so he can learn both nose and ‘3’ technique,” Thompson said. “He’s a good, young player who works hard. He’s got a little ways to go, but he’s working hard. We’re pleased with him.”

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