When South Carolina defensive tackle Javon Kinlaw
announced on Sunday he was going to return to school for his senior
season, it made the prospects of his entire position group coming back
for the 2019 season very high.
The Gamecocks (7-5) didn’t perform particularly well on the defensive
line this season but most of the players were young and were trending
up over the course of the year. Bringing back Kinlaw provides a leader
for the group as they look to elevate their play from 2018 to 2019.
“A veteran player, a guy who has really transformed his body coming
from 340 a year ago down to where he is,” third-year head coach Will Muschamp
said, when asked what Kinlaw returning means to the program. “Just
being more consistent, pad level and continuing to build girth and
strength. The guy is a worker, and he’s going to develop himself into
what he wants to be.”
South Carolina had more than a dozen players on the defensive line at
the start of the season with more than half of those being either
freshmen or sophomores.
Kinlaw returned with experience, and so did Kobe Smith and Keir Thomas on the interior. At the end, D.J. Wonnum had a boatload of experience with Shameik Blackshear and Aaron Sterling having some as well.
Senior Bryson Allen-Williams,
who will take his last snaps for the Gamecocks in the Belk Bowl, played
the vast majority of his snaps along the line of scrimmage this season,
due in part to the injury to Wonnum. The hope was to move
Allen-Williams around a significant amount with snaps at the BUCK and
SAM positions. Instead, there were times at BUCK and defensive end.
But apart from Allen-Williams and his part time role with his hand in
the ground, the Gamecocks will bring back everyone on their defensive
line, provided Wonnum decides to return and no one elects to transfer.
And not only will the Gamecocks bring back a bunch of capable bodies,
they’re adding some in the recruiting class.
Here’s a look at what the Gamecocks should return next season on the defensive line:
Daniel Fennell - Played in 11 games this season for the Gamecocks but tore his ACL
against Clemson. He finished the year with 29 tackles, including 3.0 for
a loss of yards. He had one quarterback sack, one pass breakup and one
quarterback hurry. He will be a senior next season and should factor in
at the BUCK position.
- Played in the final three games of the season this year as his only
action. He totaled two tackles in his limited work, and should see his
role be primarily at the BUCK position but could play some on the end as
- Belk played in the first two games of the year and, including the
bowl game, will play in the final four. He had an ankle injury that kept
him out for a large chunk of time and was a reserve this year after
enrolling in August and battling weight issues. He has four tackles, one
pass breakup and one quarterback hurry.
- Ellis, who qualifies for a redshirt this year, played in three games
this season. He had two tackles on the year, including assistant on a
tackle for loss.
- The rising senior played in all 12 games so far this season and
totaled 38 tackles, which is second-most among defensive linemen on the
team. He is tied for second on the team with 10.0 tackles for loss and
has the most quarterback sacks with 4.5 on the year. He also has batted
down five passes, has three quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles.
- Sandidge has played in all 12 games so far this season as a reserve
defensive tackle. He has 14 total tackles, including 2.5 for a loss. He
also combined with one of his teammates on a quarterback sack.
- It is Smith who is third on the team in tackles among defensive
linemen as he has 34 this season. He has 2.0 tackles for a loss with 1.5
of them being quarterback sacks. He also has four quarterback hurries
and will be a senior next season.
- A reserve defensive tackle playing in eight games this season, Webb
has totaled two tackles. He assisted on a tackle for loss and also has
one quarterback hurry. Webb will be a sophomore next season.
Swing players returning:
Shameik Blackshear - Blackshear played in all 12 games this season for South Carolina and
has primarily been a defensive end. He does, however, slide inside
sometimes, especially in pass situations. Blackshear, a rising senior,
has 24 total tackles with four of them going for a loss of yards. He has
one quarterback sack and one hurry.
- This is projection more than anything as Enagbare played most of his
meaningful snaps at defensive tackle where he totaled 17 tackles,
including 3.0 for a loss of yards. He also blocked a kick, had a
quarterback sack, batted down two passes and was credited with three
quarterback hurries. Due to injury, he played some on the edge against
Akron and could in the bowl game as well.
- A rising senior, Thomas led all defensive linemen in tackles with 44
for the Gamecocks. He had 3.5 for a loss, which included 1.5 quarterback
sacks. Thomas also had four quarterback hurries. He played most of the
year at tackle after spending his sophomore year at end. Both years,
however, he’s taken snaps at each spot and it stands to reason the same
can be said for him next year.
- Johnson, a rising junior, will certainly play at the BUCK position.
He played in all 12 games this season both on special teams and as a
reserve on defense. He had 22 total tackles and 2.5 quarterback sacks.
He also added four quarterback hurries, forced a fumble, recovered a
fumble and had a pass defended as well.
- Sterling suffered a knee injury against Ole Miss that has kept him
out since. He could be back for the Belk Bowl, according to head coach Will Muschamp.
But so far this season, he has played in eight games with 15 tackles.
He has 3.0 tackles for a loss, which includes one quarterback sack. He
also has three quarterback hurries and recovered a fumble.
- Wonnum was going to be the primary defensive end this year but can go
back and forth between that spot and the BUCK position. He played in
only five games this year and suffered two injuries that kept him out
multiple weeks. After suffering a second ankle injury of the year
against Chattanooga, Wonnum finished the year with 11 total tackles,
including 3.5 for a loss. He had two quarterback sacks, one quarterback
hurry and recovered a fumble. He will be a senior next season.
- South Carolina has one defensive lineman on the roster who did not
play this season due to injury. Johnson has endured several injury
trials during his young career as he tore his labrum in high school and
delayed his enrollment. Then, while at Carolina, he tore his ACL.
Johnson practiced almost strictly as a defensive tackle when going
through drills prior to his injury. The staff was very high on him as
well. Prior to his injury in high school, Johnson had 72 tackles,
including 22 for a loss of yards, as a senior.
- The junior college transfer is a certain true defensive tackle coming
in next season. According to his NJCAA page, he had 67 tackles in 10
games this season at Highland Junior College. He had 2.5 quarterback
sacks and recovered a fumble. Green had offers from Alabama, Florida,
Georgia, Tennessee and several others in the recruiting process. He has
stayed firm with his commitment to the Gamecocks.
Incoming Edge Defenders:
- Anderson has already been told by the coaching staff that he will fit
into a swing player type of role. He will play some on the edge but
could very well start his career playing more on the interior. His path
could be very similar to that of Keir Thomas.
- An Aiken native and Georgia Military product, Davis played in 10
games this season for his junior college team. He had 30 tackles with 10
of them going for a loss of yards, including four quarterback sacks. He
also recovered a fumble.
- Fitten is an edge defender all the way. He’ll be a BUCK for the
Gamecocks, a team he committed to on Sept. 13 of his junior season over
double-digit other offers. Nebraska and Tennessee both offered well
after his commitment to South Carolina.
- Pickens, playing for a state championship on Friday at Williams-Brice
Stadium, will start his career out at the defensive end position. He’s a
big-bodied player and could slide inside some in pass rush situations