July 18, 2014
By Brad Muller | More Features
It's often been said that defense wins championships. Despite not having a single player selected to the Preseason All-SEC First Team and not even a Second Team selection on the defensive side, South Carolina was recently picked to win the SEC East by voters at SEC Media Days. That's just fine with Defensive Coordinator Lorenzo Ward.
"That's called respect to me," Ward said. "We have by no means arrived to where we want to be, but we've won a lot football games here. To not have any First Team players and still get picked to win the East; it feels to me like we have gained some respect in this tough league that we play."
Since the SEC went to divisional play in 1992 with the addition of South Carolina and Arkansas to the league, a team has never been picked to win its respective division without at least one First Team selection.
"We don't have the big name players that we may have had in the past on defense," Ward said. "I think it's a good thing. We have a lot of guys who have played a lot of football, and if you want to win a championship, you have to play good defense."
Senior safety Brison Williams was a pre-season Third Team All-SEC selection by voters at media days. The Gamecocks lost five starters from last year's defense, including Jadeveon Clowney, who was the first pick in the NFL draft by Houston, as well as cornerbacks Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree, and defensive linemen Kelcy Quarles and Chaz Sutton. Those players helped the Gamecocks finish second in the league in scoring defense last year, but Ward does not feel like this year's squad is being snubbed.
"This is a tough league," Ward said. "I'm not really surprised at all. This is the SEC. There are lot of good football players in this league. We feel like we have enough really good players here so that we can be as good or better on defense."
Despite losing three starters on the defensive line, the cupboard is certainly not bare up front with the return of eight lettermen led by senior J.T. Surratt, junior Gerald Dixon, Jr., and sophomores Gerald Dixon and Darius English. Coupled with a linebacker corps led by junior Kaiwan Lewis and sophomore Skai Moore, who earned 2nd Team Freshman All-America honors in 2013, Ward believes this team has lot more depth among its front seven.
Defensive Coordinator Lorenzo Ward
"I think we have some very talented linebackers that had to grow up really quick a year ago," Ward says. "I think J.T. Surratt will be a leader, and Brison Williams will be a leader in the defensive backfield. We will have to play young guys on the corner. You just have to do whatever your players can do, so we have to be more creative and get the best out of every position."
With that depth, Ward sees his unit being a lot fresher in the fourth quarter, where close games can be won and lost. It's not time to proclaim the 2014 South Carolina defensive unit the next "no-name" defense made famous by the Miami Dolphins in the early 1970s, but sometimes not having the one player as the focal point of your defense can work to your advantage as well.
"I just think we'll have a group of young men who realize they can't rely on someone like Clowney to make a play," Ward said. "They'll have to make a play. That's a good thing."
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