Examining Clayton White's 4-2-5 defensive scheme
South Carolina has its defensive coordinator, and he's bringing a different style of defense to the Gamecocks compared to what fans are used to over the last few seasons.
Clayton White is set to become the team's defensive coordinator, who spent the last four seasons at Western Kentucky specializing in the 4-2-5 defense.
It's something Gamecock fans have seen before with Ellis Johnson, but over the last five years South Carolina's run defenses basing out of the 4-3 or 3-3-5, so a refresher course could be needed. Lucky for you, we have one.
The 4-2-5 defense is a scheme with a base defense that includes four down defensive linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs.
Typically, in a base defense, the five defensive backs include two corners, two safeties and a rover hybrid safety/outside linebacker, which was referred to as a Spur when Ellis Johnson was at South Carolina running the 4-2-5.
It's dependent on good defensive line back and is designed for players to rely heavily on instincts to diagnose plays. Plus, it has the ability to clog passing lanes with five defensive backs on the field.
Running it, though, could be difficult without the right personnel and, because it's instinct based, could be susceptible to play action or RPO calls.
The biggest issue or drawback to the system is because there are only two linebackers and two high safeties (one at times depending on coverage) it can leave some space in the middle of the field.
Also, only two linebackers on the field, depending on personnel, it could create offensive advantages with underneath routes or in the tight end pass game.
Running the 4-2-5 requires a good nose tackle designed to push a pocket in the middle and cause disruptions and smaller, speedier pass rushers who can get off the edge and get to the quarterback.
The real onus comes on the back end, putting a lot of pressure on the five defensive backs to communicate and cover well. With more space in the box because there are only two linebackers, those are also tasked with a lot in terms of defending the run and the more underneath routes.
Defensive backs, including the Spur (or whatever White wants to call it) need to have coverage skills and be able to move as one unit.
Speaking of the Spur, it is similar to a DIME linebacker with a defensive coordinator able to disguise coverages.
When healthy, Jahmar Brown seems like the prototypical Spur linebacker or defensive back.
So, if Brown were in the game, he could be the Spur and be able to slide down and fill the run in the box—giving the Gamecocks more of a traditional 4-3 look or bounce outside and cover in the middle part of the field in a Cover 3 or quarters system and the Gamecocks not have to change personnel.
That leads to a bigger point: do the Gamecocks have the personnel to run this kind of system?
The Gamecocks absolutely have the two edge rushers to run it with Aaron Sterling still on the roster and an incredibly productive player, when healthy, over the last four years.
Having him opposite first-team All-SEC defensive end JJ Enagbare gives South Carolina some building blocks on the defensive line. Also, five-star Jordan Burch had a solid freshman season and will factor in as well.
Losing Keir Thomas in the middle still hurts the Gamecocks from a depth and experience perspective. The Gamecocks are still undersized in the middle but have talent with five-star Zacch Pickens and Jabari Ellis on the roster now.
Linebacker numbers are thin, but the Gamecocks just picked up commitments from transfer Debo Williams and freshman Kolbe Fields.
Brown seems tailor-made to play the Spur position but outside of that the Gamecocks have some questions after losing at least three starters since Will Muschamp's firing in Jaycee Horn, Israel Mukuamu and Jammie Robinson.
Rotation player Shilo Sanders also transferred.
The Gamecocks have picked up two defensive backs since Beamer took over in Isaiah Norris and David Spaulding to help back there.
Time will tell on how good White's defenses will be at South Carolina, but he's had a large amount of success in his time at Western Kentucky.
In four seasons with the Hilltoppers, his defenses have posted an overall PFF grade of over 80 in three of his four years and coverages grades above 85 in all four seasons.
His pass rush grades haven't been high — none over 70 in four seasons — but the Hilltoppers have been solid in rush defense and a really good tackling team during his tenure.