Gamecocks' stars are gone, but defense has talent and depth

South Carolina's J.T. Surratt celebrates after stopping Kentucky near the goal line during last year's game in Columbia. (Travis Bell/Sideline Carolina)

One season ago, the South Carolina defensive line had the rock star mentality with the presence of defensive end Jadeveon Clowney overshadowing everyone else. Everything Clowney did - from making a spectacular play to sometimes taking a play off - was dissected and examined ad nauseam.

With the 2014 South Carolina season eight days away from kickoff, things are completely different as far as the defensive line is concerned. Clowney was the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft and Kelcey Quarles and Chaz Sutton are currently in NFL camps.

Despite those departures, USC defensive line coach Deke Adams likes where his group sits.

"All of those guys have done well," Adams said. "We're going to have some depth to work with. I'm excited about it. We still have seven or eight more days and when we start to take some things out it will tell a little bit. We'll certainly have a two-deep and in a lot of situations maybe three."

If the season were to start today, Adams would have sophomores Darius English and Gerald Dixon starting at defensive ends and sophomore Gerald Dixon Jr. and senior J.T. Surratt at the tackle positions in the Gamecocks' base 4-2-5 lineup.

Outside of Surratt, there isn't much starting experience among those four but Adams wasn't overly concerned by that fact. Sophomore defensive tackles Deon Green and Abu Lamin along with junior Phillip Dukes will provide plenty of depth in the interior. True freshman Taylor Stallworth also has caught the attention of players and coaches with a solid camp.

Junior Mason Harris and redshirt freshman David Johnson would probably be the first two off the bench in the defensive end rotation.

"A lot of the guys that will see the field against Texas A&M have played plenty of snaps for us," Adams said. "We have some guys that are hungry to make their mark and show there won't be any drop-off from the production of last year."

Dixon Jr. likes the way this unit has come together. They sometimes felt overlooked in preseason predictions, but he feels this group has the potential to match or exceed what last year's defensive line accomplished.

"The D-line chemistry is great," Dixon Jr. said. "The whole team is together this year. You can tell we're a different team. Everybody is a brotherhood, real tight."

This will be the first time the Dixon brothers have started beside each other on a regular basis since little league football in Rock Hill. They went to different middle and high schools and came to South Carolina together to be able to start beside each other again. The last time the two were in a starting lineup together was the Shrine Bowl in 2011.

"It's been our dream to play beside each other," Dixon said. "We got to play together in little league but got split up in middle school and high school. We made the decision to come to college together to play with each other and to be able to start beside him is special."

Dixon Jr. agreed with is younger brother. The two are sons of former South Carolina standout Gerald Dixon and were born five months apart.

"It's a great feeling to know I'm going to be beside my brother," Dixon Jr. said. "We used to play with each in little league. It feels great to be over there with him."

Texas A&M announced Kenny Hill will be the starting quarterback on Aug. 28. He was the backup to Johnny Manziel last season and only attempted 22 passes and seven rushing attempts in four games last season. Adams said the USC coaches didn't know a lot about the sophomore but will start preparing for him in earnest this week.

"We'll start watching some film," Adams said. "For a guy coming in here for his first start, it will be a tough environment. We need our fans to continue to do what they've been doing. We'll come out and play hard and be prepared for whoever lines up against us."