Notebook: Veteran d-line to be a strength

In this in-depth football notebook from USC's annual Football Media Day, GamecockAnthem's Will Tiller reports on a variety of topics surrounding the 2009 Gamecocks, including how the experienced and talented defensive front is expected to be a strength of the team this season.

Defensive linemen excited about potential this season

South Carolina's defensive front is arguably the deepest and most talented that it has been in quite some time. Returning three starters and other veterans with substantial game experience is something that contributed to Spurrier proclaiming that he and the rest of the coaches believe the Gamecocks will have a "heck of a defense this year." The size of the front line is quite an imposing sight, and Defensive Line Coach Brad Lawing's unit should be more than ready, physically, for the brutal battles that occur down in the trenches of SEC football.

"I'm definitely excited about our front four. This will be my first year starting and I'm looking forward to stepping in and making plays," said junior defensive tackle Travian Robertson. "Depth-wise we've got Kenny Davis and Melvin Ingram backing us up, and those guys are working hard. They're trying to get better every day. We're trying to get them ready for the SEC and show them how to roll."

Fifth year senior defensive tackle Nathan Pepper is the leader of the Gamecocks' defensive front, and he believes USC's d-line is primed for a big year, thanks in large part to the number of veterans he'll be playing alongside.

"I'm really looking forward to this season. It'll be my last with the team and we've got a bunch of experienced guys coming back. When you've got guys that know what they're doing from the get go, then I think it's a lot easier to have success," said Pepper.

Pepper stated that this is the most physical front line that he's been a part of in four years with the program.

"That's something that you've got to love as a defensive lineman. If you don't love it then you shouldn't play the position," commented the Greenville product about the hitting and physical aspect of playing as a lineman in the SEC.

Junior defensive end Cliff Matthews also echoed the comments by his teammates, stating he too is excited to get the season underway and see what this group can do as a unit.

"I'm excited for this season, everybody's on the same page. We're approaching this season with a different attitude this year, and we're going to try to finish this season unlike how we did at the end of last season," said the explosive edge-rusher.

Along with Robertson and Pepper, Matthews is another defensive lineman who says he enjoys mixing it up with the o-linemen in practice, noting how that physicality in practice is essential to preparing him and his teammates for game action.

"I think it's a good thing. It teaches you how to strike with your helmet and also forces you to keep your pads low."

Matthews says that he has set several goals this season for both himself and the team.

"I want to get over 50 tackles, at least 10 sacks, and at least one interception," he stated.

However, the Cheraw native says he is just mainly worried about accomplishing the team goal that has been set. "I want to have a good season, but I'd rather have the team win an SEC Championship than for me to have a great season individually."

Wolford: I want players to ‘Live the football life'

Offensive line coach Eric Wolford has had a reputation for expecting a lot out of his offensive linemen, and he admitted that it requires nearly a full-time commitment to fulfill the requirements he sets for his pupils.

"I don't want guys who just give me their attention for two or three hours. I want guys who live what I call the football life," he said.

Wolford then elaborated on what he constitutes as the "football life".

"You go to breakfast, you go to lunch, you go to your class, and handle yourself appropriately in the community. Then you've got to get your stuff done off the field as far as film study, treatment, rehab, extra lifting, making sure that you eat 300 grams of protein a day. There are so many things that factor into a football life that a lot of young people don't do or don't understand what they need to do, so they never have the opportunity to reach the level of play that they could if they followed all of those steps."

The enthusiastic coach stated that he is very happy with how his players have handled themselves off the football field since he arrived at USC, and now it's just a matter of finding out who is really ready to play.

"This week I hope some guys step up and realize that there needs to be a push that separates themselves from the rest of the guys. If two guys are battling for a position, I think it's their responsibility to make it clear and evident to the coach that, 'I'm the better guy,'" he said.

Wolford admits that he's only human and he can make mistakes when it comes to picking the starting five linemen, but he is always looking to find the linemen who separate themselves from the rest.

"I might have to make a change during the game, or it might occur after the game, but hopefully during this next week some guys will separate themselves from the pack."

Defensive line coach Brad Lawing and Wolford have pitted their units up against one another in practice, instilling intensity, toughness, and physicality, in order to create a more competitive environment.

"We've been doing as much as we can to create a competitive atmosphere so that we can get an idea of who can truly compete day in and day out. That's we need right now, some real competitors," Wolford emphasized. "We've made a strong effort to make practice more intense than a game."

Young guns impressive in first week of practice

Coach Steve Spurrier described the number of freshmen who are pushing for early playing as "intriguing."

Redshirt freshman Aramis Hillary leapfrogged Reid McCollum to take over the 2nd string quarterback position over the weekend. McCollum and Hillary are expected to continue to compete for the spot unless first team quarterback Stephen Garcia begins the 2009 season the way he ended the 2008 campaign. Spurrier said that McCollum and Hillary "have a long way to go" before they'll be ready to play, but that they are heading in the right direction.

Spurrier reiterated that Garcia's performance this year will be one of the determining factors of USC's success. Garcia should improve on the porous note that he ended last season due to the hard work that he has put in during the offseason, but also because he may have several more receiving options to pick from on each play. Freshman standouts Alshon Jeffery and Demario Bennett earned high praise from their head coach when he called them, "probably the most impressive" receivers in camp thus far. As far as playing time goes, Spurrier hasn't ruled out the possibility that one or both of the young wideouts could see a significant number of snaps this season.

Another one of those targets could be true freshman tight end Justice Cunningham, who according to the head coach can, "block, run, and catch". Spurrier believes that the need for depth behind junior Weslye Saunders at tight end will force Cunningham to "play a lot this season" rather than take a redshirt year.

Running backs Jarvis Giles and Kenny Miles were also highlighted by Spurrier as two players who have the potential to "gain a bunch of yards for us."

Along with the offensive players, Spurrier named a handful of young defensive players who have the ability to make an early impact. True freshman defensive backs DeVonte Holloman, D.J. Swearinger, and Stephon Gilmore were mentioned as players who were going to play a lot this year and possibly even start. Gilmore has already locked down a starting cornerback position, while Holloman and Swearinger are competing for spots on the two-deep in the secondary. Defensive ends Devin Taylor and Chaz Sutton, Spur linebacker DaMario Jeffery, and inside linebacker Reggie Bowens round out the mix of young defenders that the head coach described as "talented and ready to play."

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