As the University of South Carolina football squad looks ahead into the 2009/2010 season, a lot has been made of their questions on both sides of the ball.
On offense, the question marks surround redshirt sophomore Stephen Garcia and his front five. On the other side of the ball, the secondary is reeling from a loss of four players who had extensive playing time (three to the NFL).
Coach Steve Spurrier countered these questions with making terrific hires from top to bottom. From the weight room, to the secondary, to the offensive line, to the quarterbacks, Spurrier made hires to shake a late season slump habit months before the season even began.
Time will tell whether these offseason hires will pan out, but based on early offensive line recruitment and marked progress in every aspect of the offense during the spring game, The Cheddar is pleased for now.
So with all of this to digest and fans still glaring at the holes on defense and lack of performance from the offense, The Cheddar takes time to ask the question: What's the good news? Well ladies and gentlemen, the defensive line is shaping up to be very good news for Carolina this year.
From top to bottom the University of South Carolina seems to have one of the strongest front four in the SEC. And while we haven't played a down yet and a bunch of UF fans probably just screamed at their computer screens, I beg you to hear me out on this one.
At the end spots, Carolina features two of the most physically gifted pass rushers that have dawned garnet and black in quite a while. Starting at right end will be 6'4", 249 pound, JR Cliff Matthews. The former five star recruit has progressed every year in his role at defensive end since he first set foot on campus and many around the SEC believe he's bound for a breakout year in '09.
Digging his fingers in the dirt across from Matthews will be the mammoth 6'8", 281 pound, Clifton Geathers. After waiting his turn behind Matthews and the Lindsey brothers in his first two years, the talented JR is ready to step in and be a difference maker this year for the Gamecocks at left end.
Plugging up the holes in the middle will be a talented, veteran group of defensive tackles for the Gamecocks, including fifth year SR Nathan Pepper. A proven leader, the 6'1", 300 pound Pepper provides a big body to stuff the gaps underneath while also having the ability to shift out to defensive end in certain situations.
Playing next to Peppers will be JR Travian Robertson. Brought in during the '07 recruiting class along with ends Matthews and Geathers, Robertson was groomed his first year and a half to be a defensive end. However, the 6'4", 283 pound manchild outgrew the position and now adds another dimension of versatility and athleticism to the bulk of the line.
What sets this defensive line apart from others in the past for USC is this unit's depth. Backing up the inside line is experienced starter Ladi Ajiboye. While the JR ran into some legal problems in the offseason, the 6'1", 285 pounder will be on the field to start the season and will only see his playing time increase as the season progresses.
With so many players shifting in and out of the end position including LB Eric Norwood, Pepper, and Robertson, the spot work duty will be left in the capable hands of the experienced SOPH Byron McKnight and hyped FR Chaz Sutton
With so much versatility and deception, I believe that the front four is going to make all the difference for Carolina in the upcoming season.
And while there may be questions elsewhere on the field when USC opens up their season September 3 in Raleigh, North Carolina, there is one thing Carolina fans can take to the bank. That the Carolina front four has the ability and athleticism to roll over any offensive line in the country when they're on their game. And isn't that some good news?