COLUMBIA, SC — Jadeveon Clowney's early but totally expected departure for the NFL leaves South Carolina's defense with a rather gaping hole at defensive end, and unfortunately for the Gamecocks, they don't appear to have another guaranteed first-round draft pick to plug into Clowney's spot.
Players like Clowney don't come around that often, but rest assured, someone will line up at his defensive end position next year for the Gamecocks.
The two most experienced defensive ends returning on South Carolina's roster are Darius English and Gerald Dixon, and since the Gamecocks also lose their other starting defensive end—Chaz Sutton—both will factor in a big way next season.
English, who played in every game as a redshirt freshman last season as the primary backup to Clowney, is the same height at 6'6'' but at 226 pounds, weighs approximately 50 pounds less.
He'll probably make a point to add some bulk in the offseason.
English held his own when called upon last season, as did Dixon, a sophomore who started the season as a third-teamer but played his way into the rotation behind Sutton.
Dixon, who played in all but one game, was arguably the Gamecocks' most improved defensive lineman.
Those two players are without a doubt the leaders in the clubhouse when it comes to the starting defensive end positions for the upcoming season.
Mindful that they were about to experience a void on the defensive line, however, South Carolina's coaching staff recruited accordingly.
While English and Dixon will have a huge edge in experience, they're going to have to fend off a challenge from some very talented recruits who will arrive in the fall.
At 6'4'' and 270 pounds, Wideman is physically ready to play right away.
Of the defensive end signees, Dante Sawyer is the most highly regarded. Sawyer (6'2'', 235 lbs) is a 4-star recruit who carries a reputation as a big-time pass-rusher.
The same holds true for Jhaustin Thomas, a 6'6'', 255-pound junior college transfer from Trinity Valley Community College.
Thomas earned first-team NJCAA All-America honors last season after recording 55 tackles, including 13.5 for loss and 12.5 sacks.
Even so, they'll get their chance.
Without a doubt, Clowney's presence will be missed on South Carolina's defense.
It will be up to his eventual replacement to determine whether that's a little or a lot.
All player ratings courtesy of 247Sports.