Highly touted freshman Zacch Pickens is making significant progress in his bid to make an impact on the South Carolina defensive line this season and has impressed D-Line coach John Scott Jr.
Pickens, a 6-3, 300-pound defensive tackle from Anderson, is head coach Will Muschamp’s first five-star recruit at South Carolina and is expected to make a big impact right away. Scott, the Gamecocks’ new defensive line coach, says he’s trending in that direction.
“He’s doing a really good job just mentally compared to where he was in the spring,” Scott said after practice Monday. “Coming into fall camp, mentally, he is doing a really nice job and he’s playing faster, so that’s a great sign that mentally he is getting his assignment. Once you know your assignment, you can play fast and he’s playing a lot faster. We are still working on his technique, as we are with all of them, but that will continue to come the more reps you get. I’ve been very pleased so far with where he is mentally compared to where he was in the spring.”
One player who has been impressed with Pickens is all-star defensive end D.J. Wonnum, who may line up next to the true freshman at times.
“He’s going to be a good player. He’s just getting used to college football, but he is going to be a good player," Wonnum said. "He has the size and strength and speed. I’m pretty sure he’s going to do some big things for us this year. The sky’s the limit for him."
Pickens has added to what is expected to be a much deeper defensive line this season. Scott, who coaches the interior of the line, expects the Gamecocks to be six deep in the middle. The group is led by senior and two-year starter Javon Kinlaw, an NFL prospect who has garnered several preseason accolades. Senior Kobe Smith also returns, and the duo is joined by Pickens, sophomore Rick Sandidge and junior-college transfer Devontae Davis. Junior Griffin Gentry is also in the mix, along with senior Keir Thomas and junior Jabari Ellis, who can both play inside and outside.
Scott, who came from Arkansas after spending two seasons with the New York Jets, is looking to put his stamp on a hard-nosed, blue-collar defensive line.
“We are going to be a hard-working group. I was a blue-collar player and tried to have a blue-collar mentality and have that degree of toughness and reliability,” he said. “We are going to do our job and make plays. We are learning how to work, but I want us to be the toughest group we can be. I talk to the guys all the time, we are the core of the defense and you are only as strong as your core. We have to be tough and we have to be strong. I want to make us a tough, strong-minded group.”
Pickens, the No. 2 rated defensive lineman in the country last year, fits that mold. Scott says the big freshman looks like an upperclassman.
“He’s got really, really good size and strength for a freshman coming in. He’s got like a junior body right now as a freshman, so that certainly helps,” he said. “For him, [it’s just] developing the mental part, and that’s coming. I feel like he’s doing a good job with that. Now it’s just getting the technique down and playing fast all the time. I think he’s got a chance to really help us this year.”
Scott is expecting young players like Pickens and sophomore Rick Sandidge, who also played a lot as a freshman, to be key contributors in providing the depth South Carolina needs on the defensive line.
“We are all anticipating him being a great factor in what we do," Scott said of Sandidge. "He’s got that experience. Rick is a strong, physical kid and we are going to need him. So we have high expectations for Rick and Zacch and that whole group. The more depth we can have the better we are going to be."