COLUMBIA — South Carolina defensive line coach Brad Lawing had the luxury last season of using a super-sized tackle in passing situations, even when he populated the rest of his line with three ends who were quicker in their pursuit of the quarterback.

Travian Robertson was his “push guy” — a wide-bodied interior lineman bulky and strong enough to clog the middle of the defense on running plays and light enough on his feet to contribute to the pass rush.

With Robertson gone, Lawing is looking for a new push guy at tackle. He said all of his tackles are in the mix for the job.

One starting tackle, senior Byron Jerideau, is certainly bulky at 6-1 and 316 pounds. He is starting for the first time. The other, Kelcy Quarles (6-4, 286), was a true freshman last season who started the final six games. Can he be the push guy of 2012, as Lawing said he is considering not only playing three ends at a time in pass rush situations, but perhaps four?

“I know I can be that guy,” Quarles said. “I feel like I’m way better in my pass rush than I was last year. Last year, I didn’t have my feet up under me. But this year, I feel like I’m more powerful. I got stronger in the weight room. I feel like I can play the position and do very well at it.”

Quarles’ feet were the biggest issue for him last season.

“When you engage with that (offensive lineman), you can just drive your feet or keep your feet going,” he said, describing what he ought to do. “If your feet are not up under you, if they’re behind, you can go any way and the offensive lineman really has control of you. So when you engage with that player, you want to make sure you have your feet up under you.”

Despite Quarles’ hiccups last year, playing in games taught him more than redshirting and practicing with the scout team ever could have.

“You start to get certain tendencies, you see (the offensive lineman’s) hands, you see the way they’re fanning out,” he said. “You see a lot of different things that you could adjust to in a game that you couldn’t see in practice, because to be honest, we know sometimes what the offense is doing (in practice). The offense knows what the defense is doing most of the time. In a game, it’s totally different.”

Clowney eager to play LB

Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney smiled when asked how he feels about USC’s coaches tinkering with the idea of sometimes playing him at middle linebacker this season, to get him in favorable one-on-one matchups on blitzes.

“I played that in high school a couple times,” he said. “I’ve been playing it my whole life up to now. I get to stand up, and when you’re coming downhill (from the linebacker spot), you get to hit somebody harder than coming off the D-line. You’ve got two or three steps on the D-line and five or six on the linebacker position. I’m excited about playing both of them, really. It doesn’t matter to me.”

Swearinger speaking up

Senior free safety D.J. Swearinger is the only member of USC’s secondary who started last season, when USC ranked second nationally with 131.7 passing yards allowed per game and sixth with 19 interceptions, three by Swearinger.

He is joined in the secondary this season by a new starter, sophomore Brison Williams. Each player must make the calls and align the defense for his side of the field. Swearinger is clearly the more talkative and assertive of the two.

“We try to get Brison to talk up more, but he’s done a great job from last year, with him not talking at all to him now talking more,” Swearinger said. “He’s certain of the call he’s making, but you could say (he is improving on) him speaking up more and making the other calls, just knowing more than what he’s just supposed to do. He knows what other players are doing (for their assignments), but it’s just him making those calls.”

Swearinger knows his presence will expedite Williams’ growth.

“It helps him a whole lot because I know the whole entire defense,” Swearinger said. “It just helps him get to where he’s going.”