Chaz Sutton lined up in his usual stance, his fingers planted into the grass, his eyes fixed on the ball Vanderbilt center Joe Townsend was preparing to snap. A split-second later, Vanderbilt quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels had it and was looking upfield for a short first-down throw. And a split-second after that, he was slung like a ragdoll to the turf by none other than Sutton, who recorded his first sack of the season on Vanderbilt's third play from scrimmage.
Sutton would add another half-sack and three more tackles before his day was done against the Commodores, and he did it all nursing the same midfoot sprain that has nagged him since fall camp, an injury that will likely hamper him through the rest of the season. Sutton said after Tuesday's practice that his recovery has been slow, and that he hasn't been 100 percent since fall camp.
"It's getting better as the weeks go on, you've just got to take it one week at a time," said Sutton, a fifth-year senior. "It's just something I've got to deal with if I want to keep playing on this team."
Sutton says the foot feels better than it did when he returned to the practice field after the injury, but he wears custom-made Under Armour cleats designed to give his injured foot stability and soften the pressure he feels with every step. Sutton says it could have developed into a serious condition if he hadn't taken the proper precautions, but he's glad that he did and can continue to play and make an impact.
"The first two games, it was something I had to play through," Sutton said. "This last game I felt pretty good coming out. It just showed that I can do different things, get put in the right position and make plays."
Fresh off his best game of the season, the bye week came at an optimal time for Sutton. He continues to practice and learn to play with the sprain, but he said it's likely to linger with him for a while.
"It's going to always have stress on it, so as long as its getting better than it was when I was starting out, I'll be okay," Sutton said. "As far as the UCF game, I hope its 100 percent, but I know and the doctors and trainers know its not going to be 100 percent by then."
Sutton is just one of several South Carolina defensive starters facing injury problems this fall. Strong safety Kadetrix Marcus has been in and out of the trainer's room since August, linebacker Cedrick Cooper hasn't played since 2012, defensive Jadeveon Clowney will need offseason surgery for bone spurs on his foot, and cornerback Victor Hampton has struggled to recover from the physical abuse he took against North Carolina.
The time individual players have missed has taken its toll on the defense as a whole, Sutton said.
"We need to be out here practicing together and in games together," Sutton said. "Once we get a feel for each other through camp and spring, all of the workouts and training and walkthroughs and everything, everybody gets a good feeling for each other and we can continue to get better as a unit."
Adjusting to defensive line coach Deke Adams' coaching style remains an ongoing process, Sutton says. While Adams and former defensive line coach Brad Lawing share an emphasis on playing hard and physical, their tactical approaches differ.
Sutton says Lawing was more concerned with gap discipline, but Adams focuses on attacking every play and getting upfield. Adams' is the more attractive style to Sutton, who says the defensive line will continue to improve as they get used to it.
"It's easier for us to make plays now because we can just get upfield and react and get to the ball," Sutton said. "But when we were playing in the gap (under Lawing) you've got to kind of hold up, let the linebackers flow and hope that you can go make a play. It's different. A lot of guys are still getting used to it. It's something we all are dealing with right now."
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