South Carolina has a long road ahead to elevate the play of its defensive ends after the losses of superstar Jadeveon Clowney and Chaz Sutton. With questions at the position, the Gamecocks are in somewhat of a scramble to develop a squad of viable pass-rushers on the edges.
No one is going to be another Clowney, who was a once-in-a-generation player, but that doesn't mean the Gamecocks are short of talent.
Here is a breakdown of South Carolina's defensive ends as the spring season gets underway.
One of the biggest questions for the Gamecocks is whether the defensive ends can bulk up enough to not get bullied around by opposing SEC offensive linemen. With 300-plus pound bruisers at both left and right tackle on pretty much every football team these days, South Carolina cannot send in 230-pound converted linebackers and thin defensive ends with the expectation of having a consistent pass rush.
Speed can go a long way, as ends can slip under the arms of offensive tackles, but a good tackle will just get an arm on the defensive end and push him out of the way. The most concerning players, when it comes to size, are Darius English and Cedrick Cooper.
English has come a long way so far this offseason as he continues to pack on weight, but he is still somewhere in mid-240-pound range. That's still not good enough, considering that English has a 6'6" frame that can really fill out. What is even more concerning is that English will probably be the best option as a pass-rusher in 2014.
English is full of potential and talent, but those won't be a factor if he can't pack on some more mass and prove that he has the moves to get to the quarterback. Luckily, English has a tough offensive line to go up against this spring with South Carolina.
I'm confident that English can reach 250 pounds or more and be a menace with his long frame.
The other concerning player, Cedrick Cooper, is raw for a defensive end because he has just made the switch from linebacker. Cooper makes the most sense as a situational pass-rusher, especially in the Rabbit package that involves the use of four defensive ends for an extreme pass rush.
Though, Cooper is still around 230 pounds, which is just not going to cut it. He's a superior athlete, but as a pass-rusher, I'm not sure Cooper makes sense. The size of these defensive ends is a major concern, and this spring will be more about strength conditioning for them than developing pass-rushing skills because English and Cooper have the athleticism to bring on a strong pass rush. They just need size.
Mason Harris is another player who is undersized, as he is another converted linebacker. The South Carolina spring depth chart has Harris listed at 231 pounds. Devin Washington, another defensive end who could have a breakout spring, is only 226 pounds.
South Carolina only has three defensive ends out of the seven on the spring depth chart who are above 240 pounds. And Dante Sawyer, the defensive end recruit expected to have a significant impact, is now enrolled in junior college after failing to qualify academically at South Carolina.
Gerald Dixon is listed at 267 pounds right now and has the ability to hold his ground on the defensive line. Some of the bigger ends are lacking length, which the lighter players have.
I know it's not always about size and length, but a full rotation of undersized defensive ends can be a red flag. South Carolina needs to get these players bulked up for the season.
It's going to be interesting to watch the development and strength improvements of many of these players. The Gamecocks will succeed in the player development department with defensive ends this offseason because the pass-rushing potential is entirely there. But the size issues are still concerning.