At 6-foot-1, 240 pounds, South Carolina defensive end Aaron Sterling presents a different look.
It’s part of a shift USC will see on defense, a change in personnel that informs a change of style as South Carolina heads toward 2018.
And the undersized pass rusher, who got more work than most true freshman and projects for a bigger role next year, summed it up rather nicely.
“Speed kills,” Sterling said. “So having a lot of speed guys out there, when we play like spread teams, we’ll get to the ball. Everybody’s’ flowing to the ball. When we play the bigger teams, we still can get to the ball because we’re fast.”
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The Gamecocks are looking like a team that will have to make up for a little less size next season. Up front 275-pound end Dante Sawyer is gone, as is 312-pound tackle Taylor Stallworth. Their potential replacements are 265-pound Keir Thomas at tackle and Sterling at end.
USC has also seen speedy young linebackers Sherrod Greene and Eldridge Thompson come on though last season. Both could play roles in helping fill the hole left by Skai Moore’s graduation.
But defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson said Sterling stepping in at a spot that’s been manned by players between 265 and 275 the past three years is the clearest sign of a change.
“He gives us a different style of play,” Robinson said. “And that’s the one things that me as a play-caller, I’ve got to understand the strengths of our guys. We’re not as big as we were last year. We’re a little smaller, but we’re quicker.”
The Gamecocks were a respectable 38th in yards per carry allowed and often seemed able to hold up against power rushing attacks. They’ll still have 6-foot-6, 295-pound Javon Kinlaw in the middle, and the likes of incoming tackles Rick Sandidge and Jabari Ellis, plus 293-pound Kobe Smith, mean USC might have the pieces to stay big.
But for the moment, coaches and players foresee getting more speed on the field.
“We have to move a little bit more,” Robinson said. “We have do some different things to give some offenses some issues. That’s what I have to do, that’s what we have to do as a staff, put our guys in the best place.”