2013 South Carolina Preview – Defense
CollegeFootballNews.com 2013 Preview - South Carolina Gamecock Defense
Preview 2013 - Defense
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What You Need To Know: There might be some key losses with linebackers Shaq Wilson and Reginald Bowens gone along with key playmakers DeVonte Holloman and D.J. Swearinger, but the defense that finished 11th in the nation and 13th in scoring defense is loaded again with tremendous athletes and lots and lots of speed. The spotlight is going to be on Jadeveon Clowney and his big campaign, but he's not the only pass rusher on the front four. After leading the SEC in sacks, there should be more of the same with all the linemen able to get to the quarterback. The secondary will be a strength, helped by the return of corners Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree, but the linebacking corps needs to undergo a few changes and needs some of the great prospects to turn into steady producers.
Tackles: Jadeveon Clowney, 54
Sacks: Jadeveon Clowney, 13
Interceptions: Jimmy Legree, 3
Star of the defense: Junior DE Jadeveon Clowney
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore LB Kaiwan Lewis
Unsung star on the rise: Senior DE Chaz Sutton
Best pro prospect: Clowney
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Clowney, 2) DT Kelcy Quarles, 3) CB Victor Hampton
Strength of the defense: Pass Rush, Athleticism
Weakness of the defense: Linebacker, Veteran Depth
Jadeveon Clowney isn't going to win the Heisman. He's not going to crank out 20-plus sacks – he'll be chipped, focused on and double-teamed too much – and he might be playing the season with the Whatever You Do, Don't Get Hurt cloud hanging over his head. However, South Carolina has the benefit of enjoying the guy who would've been the first overall draft pick had he been eligible this season and a superior talent who might be the best all-around defensive end prospect since Julius Peppers. At 6-6 and 274 pounds he has ideal size, linebacker quickness and the will and fire to be special – he's the total package.
Not just a pass rusher, he cranked out 13 sacks and 23.5 tackles for loss, but he also made 54 tackles holding up well on a consistent basis whether run at or away from. The 4.5 sack performance was terrific, and he did what he could to change around the LSU game on his own, but he'll mostly be remembered for one massive, legendary – and borderline illegal – hit in the bowl win over Michigan that made him a household sports name. He's an intimidating force who has more than lived up to the hype, and now the pressure is on to be patient. Even if he's not generating big numbers and is getting beaten on, he has to maintain his focus and pick his spots. No matter what, he'll once again be a gamechanger.
Senior Chaz Sutton will get the first shot at taking over on the other side of Clowney, and he has to take advantage of all the one-on-one blocking. At 6-5 and 263 pounds he has the size and he has the burst, producing whenever he gets the chance, and now he should be a statistical star after coming up with five sacks and 25 tackles in a backup role. One of the team's top recruits a few years ago, he could quickly blossom into a top NFL prospect with a little bit of work. He'll play in a rotation with sophomore Mason Harris, a linebacker-sized 6-3, 218-pound linebacker and speed rusher who's a flash off the ball. He needs to get bigger and fill out his frame, but he could find a role as a terrific specialist.
6-4, 298-pound junior Kelcy Quarles will clog up the middle again after a good freshman season and an outstanding sophomore campaign making 38 tackles with 3.5 sacks and eight tackles for loss. While he's not a massive wide-body, he's lightning quick for an interior pass rusher and holds up well against the run when pounded on. He has next-level skills as a five-technique tackle who can fly into the backfield. He'll be backed up by 6-3, 315-pound sophomore Phillip Dukes, who adds a bit more size to the interior. While he's very smart and very promising, he has to do more after coming up with just three tackles in five appearances.
The combination of 6-2, 307-pound junior J.T. Surratt and 6-3, 318-pound sophomore Gerald Dixon Jr. will be in charge of taking over for Byron Jerideau on the inside. Surratt got bigger over the last year, but he's still a quick defender who hasn't lost any of his moves after coming up with 14 tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss as a reserve – he's one of the team's most athletic interior linemen. Dixon got his feet wet last season making nine tackles to go along with an interception against Kentucky.
Watch Out For … Kelsey Griffin, the team's top recruit for the defensive front with 6-2, 292-pound size and the pass rushing ability to be devastating in the interior. Strong, active and athletic, everything is in place to become a superstar.
Strength: Pass rushing ability. Clowney might get all the attention, but the Gamecocks are going to generate pressure from all four spots. Sutton should be a breakout star, while the tackles can work their way into the backfield from time to time without much of a problem.
Weakness: Proven depth. This was a concern going into last year and it didn't turn out to be that big a deal. With so much turnover among the starters, it might take a little while to find the right combination.
Outlook: Dominant against the run against anyone but LSU – and Wofford, but that doesn't really count – the front four should make up for problems against the power teams with great athleticism and quickness. Expect steady production behind the line and lots and lots of sacks. If Clowney is Clowney again, everything else will fall into place.
Unit Rating: 8.5
This might be a problem area if sophomore Kaiwan Lewis doesn't shine through as expected. One of the most promising new defensive playmakers coming out of spring ball, the 6-0, 221-pound athlete will try to take over in the middle after making three tackles as a special teamer in his true freshman campaign. There's no questioning his range, but he has to prove he can hold up for a full season with things funneled his way. He'll be in a rotation with 6-2, 228-pound redshirt freshman T.J. Holloman, a high school quarterback with tremendous speed and potential. It might take a little while before he blossoms, but there's talent to work with.
Sophomore Cedrick Cooper is still trying to come back from a knee injury suffered in the bowl game, and when he's right, he should be one of the team's leading tacklers on the weakside. The 6-2, 213-pounder is a pass rushing threat with great skills but he only made one tackle last season. Also showing a world of upside is redshirt freshman Kelvin Rainey, a 6-3, 233-pound light-him-up hitter who was one of the team's top recruits last season and should soon be a statistical star at either linebacker spot or at the Spur.
The Gamecocks use a hybrid safety and strongside linebacker at the Spur, and it's usually one of the team's glamour positions. Gone is DeVonte Holloman after a nice season and in will be a nice combination of junior Sharrod Golightly and redshirt freshman Jordan Diggs, who should both be all over the field being disruptive. The 5-10, 195-pound Golightly is a fast option who can be used like a nickel back when he's not in at the Spur. He can do a little bit of everything, but he has to show it after making just three tackles in a limited role. At 6-0 and 214 pounds, Diggs is a little bit bigger. He got on the field for two games making five tackles with a tackle for loss before suffering a leg injury, but he's a dangerous defender who should be more like a true linebacker when he gets his opportunities.
Watch Out For … Larenz Bryant. Arguably the strongest area of the team's recruiting class, Bryant is the best on the lot with the ability to play anywhere in the linebacking corps. At 6-0 and 215 pounds, he's not huge, but the former running back/linebacker has extreme athleticism and range.
Strength: Speed and athleticism. It's a smallish linebacking corps, including the Spur, and everyone can fly with gang tackling not a problem. It doesn't matter who's in, the Gamecocks will have excellent athletes who can move.
Weakness: Shaq Wilson and Reginald Bowens. The linebacking corps turned out to be just fine after losing Antonio Allen and Rodney Paulk, and now it has to find options to replace Wilson, who led the team with 86 stops, and Bowens, who finished third with 59 stops. That doesn't include Holloman, who was a tone-setter who finished fourth on the team with tacklers.
Outlook: Everything will be fine. It might take a little bit to find the sure-thing starting three, or two if the Spur is considered to be more of a defensive back, and a lot depends on the health of Cooper. With all the athletes and all the options, there should be a good rotation once everyone gets their feet wet.
Unit Rating: 7.5
Step One is replacing free safety D.J. Swearinger, hoping for Kadetrix Marcus to be ready to handle the work. "J.J." made five tackles in his first season, but the sophomore has the smarts, range and 6-1, 195-pound size to be all over the field. A great tackler, he should be solid against the run and could move over to strong safety. Fighting for the job is 5-10, 183-pound sophomore T.J. Gurley, with great tackling ability making 13 tackles and good special teams ability, but he has to come back healthy from a knee injury.
Junior Brison Williams won't have any problems taking over the strong safety job full-time after finishing sixth on the team with 52 tackles with two picks. The 5-11, 218-pounder got over the broken arm that cost him a bulk of the 2011 season, and while he's just okay in pass protection, he's a hitter who can be like an extra linebacker against the run.
5-10, 202-pound junior Victor Hampton is a star in the making at one corner. A fiery leader who isn't afraid to mix it up and shove around his man, he did a nice job as the No. 1 coverman making 40 stops with a sack and three tackles for loss, but he only came up with one pick and six broken up passes. However, teams tended to stay away from him for stretches. Back on the other side is senior Jimmy Legree, who tied for the team lead with three picks and six broken up passes with 44 stops. At 6-0 and 187 pounds he's a safety-sized defender who can play anywhere in the secondary. A phenomenal athlete, he moves extremely well and matches up without a problem against any SEC receiver.
5-10, 189-pound sophomore Ahmad Christian will serve as a backup corner but could see plenty of time in nickel and dime packages after making eight tackles with two broken up passes. A great baseball player who was drafted by Milwaukee, he's a terrific all-around athlete.
Watch Out For … JUCO transfer Ronnie Martin, a ready-made corner who'll push for time right away. The 5-11, 173-pounder is a bit rusty after having hamstring problems last season, but he has elite speed and could turn out to be one of the team's most versatile options.
Strength: Cornerback. Helped by the tremendous pass rush, the secondary should make plenty of plays with two fantastic veterans in Hampton and Legree to work with. There's great young talent waiting in the wings to see time in the rotation.
Weakness: Veteran depth. There's talent and potential, but there aren't a lot of sure things at any of the four spots. The starters are set and fine, but there will be big problems early on if injuries strike.
Outlook: The secondary was fantastic last season allowing 195 yards per game while doing a outstanding job of keeping the big plays to a minimum. With three strong starters back and a potential star in Marcus, and a great pass rush to help the cause, the production should continue.
Unit Rating: 8
Gone is kicker Adam Yates, who hit 11-of-17 field goals with three blocks, and now sophomore Landon Ard is a walk-on with a big leg and nice potential, but he has to be consistent from midrange. He'll battle with redshirt freshman Nick St. Germain, a good recruit who'll receive every shot at the job.
The punting game was okay, not great, but it was far better than two years ago. Junior Tyler Hill averaged 39.4 yards per try with 12 kicks put inside the 20, but he didn't blast away with a long of just 55 yards.
Receiver Bruce Ellington is an elite kickoff returner averaging 22.6 yards per pop after coming up with 23.1 yards per try two years ago. He'll be in the mix for all-star honors, but it'll take some time before punt returner Ace Sanders and his 15.3-yard average can be replaced. Ellington and Victor Hampton will give it a try, with Hampton struggling on his two tries coming up with 12 yards on one attempt and -14 on the other.
Watch Out For … Hampton as a punt returner. Sanders was a gamechanger with two returns for a touchdown, proving to be good enough to force teams to do everything possible to stay away from him. Hampton has to be as dangerous.
Strength: Punt coverage. The punting game overall might not have been anything dynamic, but it worked. Hull did a good job of working within the system, and the results were a paltry 4.7 yards per punt return.
Weakness: Kickoff coverage. Ellington was great, but the coverage teams killed all the positives allowing a whopping 23.2 yards per try.
Outlook: A complete and utter disaster two years ago, the special teams improved enough to not be a negative, and in certain ways became phenomenal with Sanders becoming a star. Even though he has to be replaced, and a steady kicker needs to be found, things are night-and-day better than they were going into last season.
Unit Rating: 5.5
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2013 South Carolina Defense |
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