Kelcy Quarles' early departure to the NFL after last season left a potbelly-shaped hole in the middle of South Carolina's defensive front, but defensive line coach Deke Adams says the unit will fill that gap just fine.
Quarles was a crucial cog in South Carolina's defensive machine in 2013, clogging running lanes with his 6-foot-4, 298-pound frame and chasing down quarterbacks with deceptive quickness. He ranked third in the SEC - and first among defensive tackles - with 9.5 sacks in his junior season, and it was no surprise when he declared for the NFL Draft after South Carolina's Capital One Bowl victory over Wisconsin.
But Adams feels confident Quarles will be just the latest Gamecock to depart for the NFL and be subsequently replaced by another rising talent.
"I mean, Kelcy did a great job for us, played well, had a big season for us last year, but I think we're going to be fine," said Adams after South Carolina's first spring practice Thursday afternoon."
With names like Gerald Dixon, Phillip Dukes, Kelsey Griffin and Abu Lamin in the rotation, Adams says it will be a matter of reloading, not rebuilding, the interior of the line.
"To be honest with you, I'm not sure we'll miss a beat inside," Adams said. "That's not taking anything from Kelcy because he did an excellent job for us, but we have some guys there that can play, and they've just got to grow up."
RUNNING THE 3-4. It won't be as seamless a transition replacing defensive ends Jadeveon Clowney and Chaz Sutton this spring, Adams said.
The coaches trusted just four players - the star-studded quartet of Quarles, Clowney, Sutton and J.T. Surratt - to provide the bulk of South Carolina's pass rush last season.
But with only Surratt remaining from that group this spring, Adams said the staff will have to be more creative drawing up the pass rush, at least until some of the inexperienced players grasp the system and gel with the rest of the defense.
"This year, I think we're going to have to do some things and give us a chance to get to the quarterback until we grow up a little bit," Adams aid.
That could include the implementation of the 3-4 scheme, which would give the Gamecocks a chance to put their better players on the field in certain spots, Adams said. South Carolina will tinker with the formation in spring practice to see what packages it can run, but Adams said the defense will use it in the fall.
"I'm a firm believer in the things that you do in the spring and really put a lot of time in, those are the things that you're good at in the fall," Adams said.
But the second-year coach said he doesn't expect a major switch from South Carolina's base defense, one that has ranked in the top five of the SEC in total defense each of the last three seasons.
"Obviously we don't have anymore Jadeveon Clowney's and Chaz Sutton's on the edge anymore right now, but that doesn't mean we're going to totally scrap what we're doing," Adams said. "We're a 4-2-5 defense. We're just going to be able to change things up a little bit and give us a chance to get some more pressure."
ENGLISH PICKS UP THE POUNDS. Redshirt sophomore Darius English is hoping to replace either Clowney or Sutton at one of the defensive end spots, and he's been doing all the right things to prepare for the role, Adams said.
English logged 19 tackles in 13 games last season, but couldn't gain the weigh necessary to be an every-down lineman in the SEC. But Adams said the redshirt sophomore has added 25 pounds to fill out his 6-foot-6 frame over the offseason. He's now up to about 250 pounds, just below Clowney's sophomore season weight.
Adams praised English's work ethic leading up to spring practice, saying the Powder Springs, Ga., native concentrated more on gaining weight that ever before.
"He's got to be grown when we step on the field," Adams said, later adding that he thinks English will be fine.
IMPRESSING EARLY. Adams was also impressed with junior college transfer defensive tackle Abu Lamin, an early enrollee this spring. Though the team practiced inside and didn't wear pads, Lamin moved well in drills and looked strong, Adams said.
"I'm excited about seeing him when we get pads on," Adams said. "That first day, everybody's all jacked up and ready to go. But when we put pads on, that'll really tell the story the more we get into the spring."