Youth movement up front

SENECA, S.C. - Dan Brooks finds himself in a unique situation. In almost 30 years as a defensive line coach, he's always had at least one "bell cow."

The bell cow is loosely defined as an experienced veteran with plenty of snaps under his belt. Tyler Shatley would have been that guy, but he's now the starting right guard on the offensive line.

Redshirt sophomores Josh Watson and Tra Thomas are the elder statesmen of the defensive tackle group.

"I don't know that I have where everybody is either a freshman or sophomore," Brooks said. "That's not an excuse. You can't buy game experience. When you go play against the best we've got, Brandon Thomas, Dalton Freeman -- that guy's on a lot of lists. If we can play against him and hold our own, maybe we can when we get to the ball game.

"I don't know that I've been in a situation where we've had one guy, at least, been through it all. I do feel good about the way they're handling it."

Though he would have been happy to keep Shatley, Brooks thinks the positions switch is in the best interest of the team.

"He would have been a good, solid player for our front. I think he's going to be a great player over there for them on the offensive line," Brooks said.

New to the group are freshmen Carlos Watkins and D.J. Reader. Brooks thinks Watkins will play tackle and Reader will play on the nose, but that could change when practice opens in August.

Among the headliners in the 2012 signing class was Watkins.
"They're physically ready to play. If they can learn the scheme enough, there's no doubt that this football is different than playing at Chase High School and Grimsley High School," Brooks said. "When they get hit by Tyler Shatley right in the mouth, we'll find out if they're a he dog or a she dog. Do they like it?

"They've got to go get their nose bloodied and find out. Those two guys, I think, have a chance to help us."

DeShawn Williams and Grady Jarrett are the most experienced defensive tackles on campus. The sophomore duo continues to show improvement.

"Pad levels, strength levels, they've really improved their game. DeShawn has great instincts. He's an instinctive football player. Grady [has] great strength level, great leverage," Brooks said.

The player who's progressed the most over the last several months is Watson. Brooks raved about the progress of the former four-star prospect.

"Josh Watson has come so far over the last year's time. With his strength level, his work ethic, every part of Josh Watson, even off the field," Brooks said. "He's a good student now, doing well in school. His whole life is it's my turn. I think we'll know more about Josh Watson than you even thought you would, after a couple of ball games. I feel really good about what he's done to improve his game."

Despite their inexperience, Brooks thinks his group is headed in the right direction.

"I think they've taken where we left off in the spring and gone forward. That's what we have to do. We can't go back to where we were on day one of spring practice. We've got to go on," he said. "That's the thing I've challenged those guys to do. We have to be able to throw a D.J. Reader and Carlos Watkins in that mix. And where can Tra Thomas help this football team?

"I feel good about them. They're young. You can't buy experience. We've got to go good against good as much as we can afford to. We did a lot in the spring and we've got to this fall, to a point, because you've got to get ready to play. We've got to play good against good. Because that's the only way you get experience." Top Stories