South Carolina’s outside linebackers are just different, according to position coach Mike Peterson.
“We call ourselves Buck Life. We live a different way, we walk a different way and we eat breakfast a different way,” Peterson said Wednesday.
And just how does one eat breakfast a different way?
“Fast. Fast and physical,” the coach said. “We eat breakfast fast and physical. We’re not doing a whole lot of talking. We’re eating and then it’s on to what’s next.”
The “difference” doesn’t end there.
“We train a little different too,” Peterson said. “My guys run a little extra. … We have to be in shape. We’re running to the ball. We’re getting calls. We’re active.”
The coach also stressed the importance of his unit’s versatility.
“To be able to have guys that can play multiple positions, it’s great for late in the season because you never know what’s going to happen,” he said.
“ … The Buck, he’s the more athletic guy. He can move around. He can play with his hand down or up. He’s a guy who can drop into coverage for us. My end, he’s more of a stout guy. He’s my run down guy, but he can also rush the passer.
“But the common denominator for all those guys is that they’ve got to be tough. They’re guys that are not afraid to stick their head in there and run and play the pass as well.”
Here are six takeaways from what Peterson told reporters on Wednesday:
1) Is senior D.J. Wonnum an NFL player?
Peterson agreed with Gamecock interior defensive line coach John Scott Jr., who said earlier this month 6-1, 260-pound senior end D.J. Wonnum will play in the NFL.
“Who would be my top pass rusher? D.J. Wonnum. Come on. He’s a good one,” Peterson said. “ … Can he play in the NFL? Without a doubt.”
While Peterson and Wonnum sometimes talk about the NFL in their private chats, the coach said his understudy isn’t focused on what’s to come after this season.
“The NFL and what’s next is going to take care of itself,” Peterson said. “All you can control right now is what you do on the field.”
Wonnum missed five games last season with an ankle injury but is fully healthy.
“D.J. Wonnum has been great,” Peterson said. “He’s one of those guys. You love coaching good players. I enjoy coming to work coaching a guy like that. He does everything right. The good thing is, the younger guys get a chance to see how you prepare before practice, how you get out there early, how you prepare before games. He’s a valuable tool in my room.
“ … It’s great having him back out there and I think the guys appreciate it as well.”
2) Rodricus Fitten reminds everyone of a recent Gamecock alumnus
Several players this fall have compared 6-1, 245-pound freshman Fitten to Gamecock alumnus Bryson Allen-Williams, the 6-1, 229-pound jack-of-all-trades linebacker.
“That’s a good one to compare him to,” Peterson said. “Right now he’s probably running the wrong way, but that’s my job [to correct]. That’s why I’m here, to get him running in the right direction.
“But give me a guy that plays with a motor over a talented guy any day.”
That motor has earned Fitten the nickname Hot Rod.
“The thing I like about him, and I saw it in recruiting, he’s plays with a lot of energy,” Peterson said. “The thing now is try to shorten the learning curve for him and getting him on the right page as far as terminology and the way we do things.
“But the effort is the one thing I really like about him. I loved it in recruiting and he’s showing that out there now.
“He’s looking good. He’s ripped up. He’s looking good.”
3) Danny Fennell refuses to come out
Peterson called 6-2, 255 pound senior Danny Fennell “probably one of the most consistent guys on the defense” who can play a multitude of positions, including Buck, Sam and defensive end.
Fennell, who played in 11 games (five starts) but tore an ACL against Clemson and missed the final two games of the season, has emerged as a leader in the room.
When asked if he’s tried to limit Fennell’s reps in practice to easy his way back from the injury, Peterson said he has tried, but Fennell won’t let him.
“You’re talking about a tough kid. I’m trying to find a way to get him out. And when I take him out, he looks at me like, ‘Coach, what are you doing?’” Peterson said.
“He hasn’t been limited at all. I try to sneak a couple of reps here and there, but I’ve seen no signs of the knee bothering him at all. He’s rolling, man. He’s been productive and been Steady Eddy.
“… To see him grow from when I first came in here, it makes you proud as a coach. Who knew about Danny Fennell when I first got here? Now he’s out there lining guys up.”
4) ‘Did I miss anybody?’
Peterson raved about the depth of his group, listing Wonnum, Aaron Sterling, J.J. Enagbare, Fennell, Brad Johnson, Joseph Anderson and Fitten as guys who can see the field this season.
“Did I miss anybody?” he said, jokingly.
Peterson said ideally five players in that group will play every game.
“You can maneuver with four. I probably went with three last year,” he said. “Give me two and we can go from there.”
But with numerous defensive lineman and linebackers missing time last season with injuries, it meant players lower of the depth chart who are expected to play more this season gained considerable experience.
“It was major. We got a chance for some of the younger guys to get out there and get some game time experience and I think it’s going to help us a lot going into this year,” Peterson said.
5) Who’s in the mix after Wonnum and Fennell?
Peterson has been impressed with 6-4, 260-pound sophomore J.J. Enagbare, 6-1, 250-pound junior Aaron Sterling and 6-3, 280-pound freshman Joseph Anderson.
“He’s got a lot of natural ability,” Peterson said of Enagbare. “Some of the things he does are just natural. My job is to teach him when to use those type of moves. He’s a heavy-handed guy. He has long arms. Great size. Great quickness.”
Sterling reminds Peterson of himself, a 13-year NFL veteran who played as a 6-1, 233-pound linebacker.
“An undersized guy, you wonder how we get it done,” Peterson said. “But he gets it done. My type of guy.”
Anderson also has turned heads.
“In high school, he was probably the biggest guy, the strongest guy,” Peterson said. “Now he’s lining up against some guys who are just as strong and as big as him. Just understanding how physical you need to be to play this game. I think he’s learning that first hand right now.”
6) Brad Johnson’s backup in one game last season was Mike Peterson
With the number of injuries along the defensive line and linebacker corps last season, it left the now junior Johnson with no backup for a game late in the season.
“I think we went into one of those games and I told him, ‘You don’t have a backup,’” Peterson said. “‘I’ll be your backup. I’ll be the next guy in. And I’m not going in. So strap it up and let’s get ready to roll.’
“That just shows you the toughness of that kid. He’s a tough kid and he didn’t blink. He stayed out there and sucked it up and played the 90 snaps, or whatever it was, which was valuable for him.”
But how much will he play?
“I think he’s pretty close. I can’t answer that as far as how many snaps. But he played some snaps for us last year,” Peterson said. “He’s one of the younger guys that got in there and got some valuable snaps for us last year.
“I think he’s going to have a big role last year.”