What you need to know ...
The defense sacrifices size for speed whenever possible,
but that only works if there are plenty of big plays from all
the athletes. Tyrone Nix has the defensive coordinator duties
all to himself now, and he's all about being aggressive and
forcing big plays. He has the speedsters in the back seven to do
it, but there could be problems against the power running teams
unless JUCO transfer Jasper Brinkley is a beast in the middle.
The line is mediocre at best needing tackle Stanley Doughty to
get in shape and play up to his talent level. Despite losing Ko
Simpson, Johnathan Jackson and Tremaine Tyler, the secondary
should be fine with top corner Fred Bennett leading the way.
Stanley Doughty & Dakota Walker, 3.5
Interceptions: Fred Bennett, 3
Star of the defense: Senior CB Fred Bennett
Player that has to step up and become a star: Junior LB
Unsung star on the rise: Freshman FS Mychal Belcher
Best pro prospect: Bennett
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Bennett, 2) Brinkley,
3) DT Stanley Doughty
Strength of the defense: Cornerback, back seven speed
Weakness of the defense:
Linebacker size, proven pass rush from the front four
This is a serviceable line, but it's nothing special.
The defense tries to generate pressure from all
positions, but it would be nice if there was more of a push from the
front four. Jordin Lindsey and Dakota Walker have to be more effective
and more consistent at wreaking havoc, but they're only effective if the
tackles are doing their job. Stanley Doughty has All-SEC potential if he
gets the motor running. Star recruit Kendrick Ellis has live up to the
billing right off the bat to push Doughty and Marque Hall for time.
The key to the unit: Doughty's weight. If he's not
occupying two or three blockers, the rest of the line can't function. If
he's around 300 pounds going into the season, the line will be far
Defensive Line Rating: 6
- DE Jordin Lindsey, Jr. - 58 tackles, 2 sacks, 6.5 TFL
An active tackler who finished third on the team in stops, the 6-3,
248-pound junior is more like a linebacker than a true end. He's a good
pass rusher, but not an elite one and has to get help from the rest of
the line to be his most productive.
- DT Marque Hall, Jr. - 14 tackles, 1 sack, 3 TFL
Hall got bigger and stronger over the last year and now should be a more
effective run stopper at 291 pounds. He got one start but was used
mostly as a backup in the rotation with his production falling off the
map over the second half of the year. A big year is a must to improve
USC's inconsistent run D.
- NT Stanley Doughty, Jr. - 24 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 7 TFL
One of the team's only returning defensive starters is also one of the
team's most talented players when he's in shape and motivated. The
too-big 331-pound junior was out of shape this spring and needs to get
his drive back or the line is sunk. He had a nice 2005 as the anchor of
the line, and it's not an overstatement to suggest the fate of the D
rests on his ability to become a rock again.
- DE Dakota Walker, Soph. - 13 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 3.5 TFL
One of the rising stars on the line, the 6-3, 226-pound sophomore has
the potential to be the team's best pass rusher if he gets a little bit
of room to move. He struggled with a staph infection in his knee early
on before becoming a solid spot starter over the second half of the
year. At his size, if he's not getting into the backfield, he's not
- DT Matt Raysor, Soph. - 1 tackle, 1 TFL
The 313-pound sophomore bring more size to the interior than the
291-pound Marque Hall and will play a key role in the rotation. While
he's not much of an interior pass rusher, he has the quickness to make a
few big stops and occasionally get to the quarterback when he gets an
- DE Shea McKeen, RFr.
The 258-pound McKeen was expected to be a productive end but was knocked
out for the year with a back injury in the opener. With great
athleticism and wonderful upside, he needs to be a factor behind Jordin
- DT Kendrick Ellis, Fr.
The jewel of the 2006 recruiting class is almost a lock for starting
time early on this season. He's the most talented of the team's interior
options with the 6-5, 325-pound size to be the clogging force the line
needs if Stanley Doughty can't get the job done.
It would be nice if the Gamecocks had big,
speedy linebackers, but since that isn't possible, they have small,
speedy linebackers. It's all about attacking with the safety-sized
outside linebackers who must prove early on that they can hold up
against the more physical running teams. JUCO transfer Jasper Brinkley
had some good moments this spring, but he had better be all that and a
slice of pie when the tough games kick in or this is going to be a
tremendously average corps.
The key to the unit: Blow things up. With all the
speed at each spot, there's no excuse for this group to not force a ton
of turnovers and get into the backfield on a regular basis.
Linebacker Rating: 6
- Marvin Sapp, Soph. - 23 tackles
Sapp had a nice true freshman season after not getting on the field for
the first three games. He's a good open-field tackler with tremendous
upside, but he'll need to fight through some more growing pains until he
gets all the subtleties of the defense down. Speed should overcome
- Jasper Brinkley, Jr.
It'll be a shock if the top JUCO transfer isn't one of the team's better
tacklers. At 250 pounds, he's by far the biggest linebacker in the mix
with the speed to be a decent pass rusher and the range and toughness to
be a rock against the run. If he doesn't live up to the billing, the
linebacking corps will be in real trouble.
- Cody Wells, Jr. - 31 tackles, 2 sacks, 3.5 TFL
The 216-pound safety-like weakside linebacker is coming off a decent
season with two stars and plenty of playing time before missing the
final few games with a knee injury. He has decent speed, but he excels
most as a big hitter. Pass rushing isn't an issue; he'll have to prove
he can be better in pass protection.
- Curtis Rice, Jr. - 8 tackles
One of the only linebackers with any experience, the 233-pound Rice is
one of the team's bigger options playing behind Jasper Brinkley in the
middle. The former fullback started to come on over the second half of
the season and should see plenty of playing time against bigger running
- Brent Davis, RFr.
It's speed over size for the safety-sized Davis. He bulked up over the
last year but is still a mere 204 pounds. He's stronger than his size
and should be an effective al-around defender if he can hold off several
prospects for the number two job behind Cody Wells.
Things aren't all that bad despite losing tremendous
talents in Ko Simpson, Johnathan Joseph and Tremaine Tyler. The corners
will be among the best in the SEC, and certainly among the fastest, with
good enough to play on Sundays. Safety is another issue with Brandon
Isaac needing to become a steady all-around defender at Rover and
several prospects to combine to handle the work at free safety.
The key to the unit: Everyone has to be consistent
around Bennett. He'll lock down one side of the field, but no one will
throw his way. The other three starters have to take advantage of the
Secondary Rating: 7
- CB Fred Bennett, Sr. - 31 tackles, 1 sack, 3
interceptions, 10 broken up passes
At 6-1 and 199 pounds with lights-out speed, Bennett will emerge as one
of the SEC's best corners this year and is the next top NFL prospect
from the USC defensive backfield. He has been steady over the last two
seasons with good open-field tackling ability, seven interceptions and
13 broken up passes.
- FS Mychal Belcher, Fr.
Belcher greyshirted last season and comes in now as a true freshman and
ready to take over for Tremaine Tyler. The former high school
quarterback has the athleticism and the potential to grow into a solid
all-around defender, but he's going to need time.
- Rover Brandon Isaac, Sr. - 34 tackles, 2 TFL, 3 broken up
Better against the run than the pass, the 6-2, 191-pound senior has to
take over for Ko Simpson and prove he can be a bit of a ball-hawk. The
former JUCO transfer is fast enough to play corner with enough pop to be
a big hitting force at safety once he gets healthy after having problems
with his shoulder.
- CB Carlos Thomas, Soph. - 1 tackle, 1 interception
One of the team's faster players, Thomas has been used as a runner and a
receiver as well as a kick returner. He stepped in as a defensive back
against Georgia and picked off a D.J. Shockley pass, and now he has to
become a steady one-on-one defender.
- FS Ty Erving, Jr. - 8 tackles
Erving had a hard time getting playing time behind Ko Simpson last year
at Rover, and now he'll have to battle with Mychal Belcher for the free
safety job. He had his best game against Auburn making four tackles.
- Rover Mike West, Jr. - 47 tackles, 3 sacks, 2.5 TFL, 3 broken
A steady defender who has the explosiveness and athleticism to see even
more playing time, West can play outside linebacker or safety. He had a
decent season at linebacker starting out hot before seeing his playing
time and workload diminish. Now he'll have to battle hard to get work at
Rover if he doesn't spend this season on offense as a slotback.
- Rover Damien Wright, RFr.
Originally tried out at linebacker, the 5-10, 197-pound Wright will
start out as the number two Rover behind Brandon Isaac. He was a
tackling machine in high school making 175 stops and 11 sacks in his
senior year at Crestwood High in South Carolina.
- CB Stoney Woodson, Soph. - 9 tackles, 2 broken up passes
Woodson saw time in every game last year with one start. Most remembered
for a key fumble recovery in the end zone against Tennessee, he showed
he could come up with some big plays. He'll be the understudy behind
Fred Bennett and should work a little bit in nickel and dime packages.
Big-legged Ryan Succop has to replace the steady and clutch Josh Brown.
Brown hit 10 of 12 field goals and helped the Gamecocks finish 14th in
the nation in punting, but he didn't have the leg Succop has. Jordan
Dodds and Thomas Hooper will push hard for the placekicking job. The
punt return game was one of the worst in America averaging 4.47 yards
per try, but things were fine on kickoff returns. Syvelle Newton, Cory
Boyd and Kenny McKinley will all get their chances.
The key to the unit: Find an accurate placekicker.
South Carolina played in five games decided by a touchdown or less, and
there are sure to be more. The kicker will be the difference at least
three times this year.
Special Team Rating: 6
- PK/P Ryan Succop, Soph. - 0-2 FGs
Succop has all the kicking duties for now, but that should change this
fall with the battle for the placekicking job still on. He ha a huge
leg, but he missed both his field goal attempts last year and is shaky
at best when it comes to accuracy.