Scanning The Defensive Ends

With questions in the secondary looming, and considering the Gamecocks' ineptness at sacking opposing quarterbacks last season ... Carolina's defensive ends are going to have to step it up more than a couple of notches during the 2003 campaign. But does USC have the talent and depth to really get it done? ...

George Gause (JR 6-5 275) was a major disappointment to many a Gamecock fan last season. After a stellar freshman season in 2001 that saw him culminate with an outstanding performance in Outback II, Gause was seemingly non-existent in 2002. Nowhere to be found when needed the most? What happened?

Sophomore Jinx! Probably not. Jinxes are like curses, they only apply when your head is not in the game or you are ill-prepared for the task you've been asked to accomplish. Word is that Gause was not happy with his role last year which some say hamstringed him into playing a controlled and limited game from his position. We are not sure how you hog-tie a defensive end enough to limit his performance but we will find out this season if that was truly the case. We do know that he was double-teamed by most opponents and that has to be frustrating. Defenses are supposed to have the advantage of having one more man than the offense since the QB does not count in blocking schemes. That so many offenses found an extra man to put on Gause is a telling tale unto itself when considering last season's defense.

Gause is going to be cut-loose to reek havoc in opponents' backfields while relying on his pure athleticism and natural ability to shake off blockers and get to the quarterbacks with ill-intent and enthusiasm. We are looking for Gause to be an All-SEC candidate by the final whistle of the Tennessee game.

Moe Thompson (SO 6-4 280) on the other hand was a pleasant surprise. He showed why he was the high school player of the year in South Carolina and he brings the kind of enthusiasm to the game that might rub off on his teammates.

Thompson is the kind of talent that you dare not rein in once the ball is snapped. If someone was limiting the options of the defensive ends last season it did not show from Big Moe. He is another legitimate All-SEC candidate if he continues on the pace he set last season.

What we like most about Moe is his ability to recover from knock-down blocks at times ... when it seemed he had been knocked-out of a play. His motor is always running. Big Moe never quits. The reason we make special note of that is because according to most coaches that is the single most important attribute you look for in a defensive end. The guy that keeps coming no matter what. A guy who never stops until a second after the whistle has blown. Moe Thompson seems to be that kind of player.

So ... heading into the 2003 campaign the Gamecocks appear to be set with two high quality defensive ends starting in Gause and Thompson. But you have to have depth - talented depth - if you want to be competitive in the SEC.

Enter Jason Capers (RJr 6-4 280).

Capers was on track to set the world on fire last season before going down with an injury that lingered during the last seven games. He never fully recovered. If there was a good side to Capers' injury it was that Thompson's playing time was elevated enough to provide the Gamecocks with another threat at DE for the coming season. But it left Capers frustrated and unfulfilled.

Jason will have the opportunity to return to his early 2002 form this season. And everyone should expect him to make his presence known.

Jason Capers is one of those players that will quietly win a ballgame for you without you ever noticing. He does the little things well ... the ones that come from natural ability coupled with a grounded sense of being a team player. In other words what makes Jason Capers a special player is, he always seems to be where he is supposed to be thus supporting those around him in the overall scheme. Little wonder that that while most say the turning point in last season's fortunes was the moment that Ryan Brewer was injured ... the fact of the matter is that the Gamecocks took a dive at almost precisely the moment Jason Capers went hobbled.

So why is Capers not projected as a starter? Obviously Moe Thompson is making it difficult for Capers to advance up the depth chart. But we should expect Capers to apply equal and opposite pressure to Thompson. As a matter of fact, were Capers your prototypical rush end, he might be pressuring George Gause as well. There will be situations where both Capers and Big Moe will man the bookends at the same time during the upcoming season.

Three deep. The Gamecocks are golden through their top three defensive ends and possibly as talented in that regard as any other team in the SEC. Shhhhsh. That's a secret.

But what about beyond? After Gause, Thompson and Capers then who?

Charles Silas (TJr 6-6 270) was signed to add immediate depth to the Carolina defensive end corp. He brings with him loads of talent and God given ability. We all remember the film we watched of Silas during his senior season in high school ... running down tailbacks from behind like they were standing still. There were more than a few Gamecock fans who claimed they saw more natural ability in Silas than they saw in George Gause.

Academics forced Silas to Georgia Military Academy where he has been honing his skills for the past two seasons while biding his time on route to wearing the Garnet and Black. He's almost as heavy as Gause, around 270, plus he is an inch taller with a four inch wingspan advantage on The Gauzilla. Long arms are bat-down weapons. Silas shows impressive physical stature with strength and speed to burn.

Charles Silas has to complete a couple of courses in summer school - courses that we are told he is taking care of as we speak. Gamecock fans should feel comfortable counting him among the incoming JuCo players who will have an immediate impact.

Fran Person (RSo 6-6 272) seems to be another likely candidate to see some work as a down defensive end. He was a tackle in the spring game but he will be moved outside with the influx of fresh talent coming in this summer at the defensive tackle position. Person may surprise some people. Then again he may not survive the summer. If he is going to make his move this summer will be the time.

Fran has seemed out of his element at times. He was too skinny, too awkward, not intense enough during his first couple of seasons. But something might be happening based upon what we are hearing. We are picking up vibes from here and there that indicate to us that someone is beginning to notice Person as a possible contributor. He certainly has the size to be a force at defensive end. His long and lanky muscle structure has made it difficult for him to really excel in the weight room, thus making him one of the weaker Gamecock defensive linemen on the team. But if Person can use his smarts to make plays, and if he continues to work on his strength ... then all shortcomings will be forgotten. At any rate he is an underdog and underdogs sometimes come out of nowhere to become heroes on game day. Person does not lack heart, only coordination and strength.

Finally, James Scott (RSo 6-3 255). Obviously the smallest of our current defensive ends, Scott has failed to make much of an impression over the past two years but that may soon come to an end. The skinny is that he sometimes lacks the intensity, which may be frustration over his smaller size when facing our massive tackles in practice. (Note: James Scott is bigger than the average Gamecock defensive end just five short seasons ago.)

Scott will see time on special teams this year. Beyond that we are simply not sure - we know James Scott is a super young man with a bright head on his shoulders and a big heart. But we have not been able to corner anyone long enough to give us a definitive answer on Scott's future with the Gamecocks. We know he is well liked. We also know he is an average sized Gamecock linebacker at the moment ... which makes us wonder why he has not be moved there? Which evokes the possibility of other possible shortcomings.

Then there are the two intangibles.

Linebacker Darel Slay (TSr 6-4 260) will see some time at defensive end this season in special situations. Slay was given valuable work at defensive end during the spring with just that in mind, thus giving the Gamecock coaches a swing man capable of moving down and out from his linebacker position when necessary. And the scuttlebutt on Slay is that he is more of a game day player than a practice player. You always have one or two of those on your team - but they make it tough on themselves with a "practice like you play" coach like Lou Holtz.

Still, Slay will contribute at defensive end enough to spell the starters in crucial situations.

And then you have Marcus Lawrence (6-3 250). Smallish for a SEC defensive end but still a possibility given his intensity and strength.

The beauty of the new defense and the new defensive coordinator Chris Cosh, is that the key words will be "flexible" and "imaginative." Coach Cosh, along with Jappy Oliver, will have the weapons at hand that will give them the luxury to experiment. They will be probing and poking while looking for the chemistry to afford them a potent pass rush during the 2003 campaign.

The bottom line for the Gamecock defensive ends this season is that while depth is not at an optimum level, it is still adequate and probably better than at any other time in recent Gamecock memory. Avoiding injuries will be key. Having the defensive tackles and linebackers provide support in the form drawing attention away from the ends will be another key. Gause had to face far too many double-teams last season.

Worth mentioning at this point is that far too much pressure was placed on the Gamecock secondary last season because of the defensive ends' failure to apply pressure in the backfield. They will need to do better this season especially considering the uncertainty the team will be looking at from their untested DBs.

A scan of the defensive ends would not be complete without taking a quick look at the new Defensive Ends Coach Jappy Oliver.

Oliver brings something to the table that we have not had since John Fabris bailed under the pressure of a demanding Lou Holtz. Oliver comes to USC as a pure defensive ends specialist. He knows the position and has spent years coaching the pure fundamentals that typically lead to better and more productive play. Even Holtz says, "I've watched Jappy coach and I want to tell you he is one of the most fundamentally sound coaches I have seen in a long long time. It is a joy to watch him with the players."

High praise from a man like Holtz. Gamecock fans should expect great things from their defensive ends this season.

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