By Jeff Owens/Photo by Allen Sharpe
A defensive line that was already thin on depth got thinner in training camp when defensive end Shameik Blackshear suffered a concussion.
Defensive line coach Lance Thompson disclosed the injury on Thursday, saying Blackshear had not been on the field since the team began practice in pads last Friday. He said he was not sure when Blackshear when be cleared to return to action.
"Big decision for the medical staff," he said.
Blackshear, a highly-recruited player from Bluffton, S.C., has battled injuries his whole career. He played little as a freshman after suffering a knee injury in high school. He then suffered a gunshot wound after his freshman season that hindered his progress. He played in nine games last year and was being counted on for depth this season.
"Injuries are part of the game, you just have to go with the next guy," Thompson said. "When he gets back, we'll get him back in there."
Thompson has been pleased with several players up front, including Kobe Smith and Keir Thomas, who both played last season and are being counted on to provide depth behind starters Taylor Stallworth, Ulric Jones, Dante Sawyer and D.J. Wonnum.
"Other than that, everybody is a first- or second year player, so it is a unique position. They are going to have to come on," he said.
Thompson has been particularly impressed with Stallworth, who has drawn the praise of his teammates. Healthy and stronger, he has been dominant in practice.
"Taylor, without a doubt, is our one guy who is a special guy, a SEC top-level player," Thompson said. "He needs to play really well for us, and play a lot for us.
"I think he is more healthy, and he's a smart guy. … He is just a all-around pretty solid guy."
While the team needs depth on the defensive line, Thompson is being patient with 6-6, 326-pound junior college transfer Javon Kinlaw, who has the size the team needs in the middle.
Thompson said Kinlaw needs to improve his conditioning and gain experience, but he expects him to play.
"He's just a big guy and a big body and he's hard to move when he plays low," he said. "We are going to bring him along slow. We don't have any expectations for him. We are not going to put him in a pressure situation. We are going to be really patient with him and work him hard and let him come along at his pace."
Thompson made it clear, however, that he needs Kinlaw's size at defensive tackle.
"That's why we signed (him)," he said. "If we just have a guy who will play a three technique and not get bounced out on power plays, I would be happy. I can tell you one thing, we are not going to play a 260-pound freshman in there."
Among the freshmen, Thompson has been impressed with Aaron Sterling, a 6-1, 240-pound true freshman from Tucker, Ga.
"Aaron has been a really pleasant surprise, a little bit like D.J. (Wonnum) was last year," he said. "Very instinctive, great attitude, works hard, super kid. Really excited about Aaron."