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2007 South Carolina Preview - Defense

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jul 30, 2007


Preview 2007 South Carolina Gamecocks Defense

South Carolina Gamecocks

Preview 2007 - Defense

- 2007 South Carolina Preview | 2007 USC Offense Preview
-
2007 USC Depth Chart | 2006 CFN South Carolina Preview 

What you need to know:
The defense has plenty of returning experience, depth, young options waiting to step up and shine, and good stars to build around. MLB Jasper Brinkley is one of the best in America, and now his twin brother will move from defensive end to outside linebacker to help out (though he might end up back on the line). The secondary is emerging as a potential force if everyone starters to play consistently. There's speed at corner, depth and experience at safety, and an emerging star in SS Emanuel Cook. The defensive line has to be far better against the run, and it should be with the return of Marque Hall from injury and the emergence of freshman Ladi Ajiboye.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Jasper Brinkley, 107
Sacks: Casper Brinkley, Eric Norwood, 7
Interceptions: Stoney Woodson, 3

Star of the defense: Senior LB Jasper Brinkley
Player that has to step up and become a star: Freshman DT Ladi Ajiboye
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore CB Captain Munnerlyn
Best pro prospect: Jasper Brinkley
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Jasper Brinkley, 2) DE Eric Norwood, 3) LB/DE Casper Brinkley
Strength of the defense: Linebacker, cornerback speed
Weakness of the defense:
Proven run defense from the front four

Defensive Line

Projected Starters
:
The improvement on the line starts on the inside where the tackles have to be better against the run. 290-pound junior Nathan Pepper started almost the entire season last year and will get the call on the nose after making 25 tackles and five tackles for loss. Originally a defensive end prospect, he has the athleticism, and now he has to be a stronger anchor.

Next to Pepper will be a rotation of players with junior Marque Hall trying to come back healthy after missing almost all of last year with a knee injury. When healthy, the 302-pounder has the potential to be the team's best run stopper and an All-SEC star.

Generating pressure shouldn't be a problem with a pair of good pass rushers on the outside. 6-0, 264-pound sophomore Eric Norwood isn't built like our typical speed rusher, but he cranked out seven sacks to go along with 30 tackles and nine tackles for loss. He was surprisingly consistent for a freshman and will be the main concern of opposing blocking schemes.

On the other side is senior Jordin Lindsey coming off a nice season making 37 tackles and a sack as a spot starter. He's more like a linebacker than a true end and needs to be even stronger against the run. With his quickness and experience, being more disruptive is a must.

Projected Top Reserves: Until Hall is 100%, freshman Ladi Ajiboye will be one of the main men on the inside. At 294 pounds, he has the size to be a regular in the rotation at both tackle spots, if he doesn't start, and has good enough athleticism to get into the backfield from time to time even though he's not necessarily a pass rusher.

JUCO transfer Jonathan Williams and freshman Clifton Geathers are massive end options behind Lindsey. Williams is 6-2 and 273 pounds and experienced starting for Mississippi Delta CC. Geathers is a tackle-sized 6-7 and 273 pounds who was pursued by all the big names and should be a major player in the rotation for the next four years.

6-5, 327-pound redshirt freshman Kenrick Ellis was the star of the 2006 recruiting class and needs to grow into a force on the inside behind Pepper. He has the size, often too much of it with his weight always a question, and he has to throw it around.

Watch Out For ... the run defense to be far better. There's too much size for it not to be, and with Hall expected to come back healthy and with the hopeful emergence of Ellis and Ajiboye, the tackles should go from an unknown to a strength.
Strength
:
Potential. The recruiting classes of the last few years has to start paying off. There's plenty of young talent to work with for the next several seasons.
Weakness
:
Interior pass rushing. Norwood will get in the backfield and Lindsey should be fine, but it would help if the big bodies on the inside could start collapsing the pocket. They were fine in spring ball, but that was against the struggling Gamecock offensive interior.
Outlook: Stopping the run is project one for a line that allowed 147 yards per game. The linebackers are great at getting into the backfield, so generating a pass rush isn't a must, but it would be nice. A killer sack artist to emerge to help out Norwood would make a good line fantastic, but that player might take a while to find.
Rating: 6.5


Linebackers


Projected Starters
:
Back for a possible All-America season in the middle is 6-2, 262-pound senior Jasper Brinkley, who led the team with 107 tackles to go along with five sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss. He was a superstar JUCO transfer and more than lived up to the billing showing great range while cleaning up all the messes from a porous defensive line. The 85 solo tackles along would've made him the team's leading tackler by 34 stops. Easily the team leader, the team got a big break when he decided to come back for his senior year.

Next to Jasper will be his twin brother, Casper Brinkley, who's a little lighter at 257 pounds but packs the same wallop. He spend time at defensive end last season making seven sacks and 13.5 tackles for loss to go along with 44 tackles. Now he'll start on the strongside where he'll still be a terror in the backfield while getting more room to roam against the run. He'll also get a shot at seeing time on the weakside, but he's the prototype strongside defender. Even so, he struggled in spring ball and might end up going back to the defensive line if he doesn't do more this summer.

Returning to the to a starting will be 217-pound sophomore Rodney Paulk after earning freshman all-star honors with 36 tackles mostly on the weakside. With his size, athleticism and speed, he's better for the weakside where he should grow into a stronger pass defender.

Projected Top Reserves: 222-pound junior Marvin Sapp is the biggest weakside option with excellent speed and production finishing second on the team with 51 tackles and a sack combining with Paulk. He's a good tackler, but he doesn't have the upside of Paulk. Even though he broke his ankle in spring ball, he's expected to be ready to go by the start of the season.

Senior Cody Wells was a decent part-time starter making 32 tackles and a sack before getting knocked out for the year with a biceps injury. He's built like a safety at 5-10 and 217 pounds, but he doesn't do much against the pass on the weakside. That needs to change for him to see more playing time in the rotation. .

Watch Out For ... Jasper Brinkley to be the national linebacking star from the SEC that Patrick Willis became last season. While he might not be the first linebacker taken in the draft like Willis, Brinkley will get plenty of pub.
Strength
:
The Brinkleys. They'll hit everything in sight and be tremendous against the run with their size and open field tackling ability. If Casper can be almost as productive as Jasper, the linebackers will shine.
Weakness
:
Pass defense. This group had to help out so much last season against the run that they didn't do enough when the ball is in the air. With the projected improvements on the defensive line, the linebackers should be more helpful.
Outlook: This could be the team's strength if all the reserves play up to their potential and is the light goes on for Casper Brinkley. Getting Dustin Lindsey back to play behind Jasper Brinkley in the middle is a plus, while Sapp and Wells will find plenty of action on the outside. Of course, it'll all be about the Brinkleys as they'll be the heart-and-soul of the defense.
Rating: 8


Defensive Backs


Projected Starters
:
Step one will be to replace top corner Fred Bennett, and there's a veteran to step in with junior Stoney Woodson taking over after making 47 tackles and three interceptions. At the very least, he's a great nickel back with decent side and great open-field tackling ability proving to be tough against the run and a decent centerfielder.

On the other side will be 5-11, 192-pound junior Carlos Thomas, who spent most of last year learning how to be a full-time corner after seeing time early in his career as a receiver. One of the team's fastest players, he's used as a kickoff returner and now needs to start doing more when the ball is in the air.

In what will be a constant fight for the starting safety spots, sophomore Emanuel Cook and senior Brandon Isaac have the jobs ... for now. Isaac was establishing himself as a good hitter and top run defending defensive back, but he was a little too physical hurting his shoulder and sitting out all of last year after making 34 tackles in 2005. He's fast enough to play corner if needed when he's not at free safety.

The 216-pound Cook had a sensational true freshman season tying for third on the team with 47 tackles to go along with five tackles for loss despite missing three games with a knee injury. If he's not the team's best tackler, he's close.

Projected Top Reserves: If it's not Cook and/or Isaac at safety, then senior Chris Hampton will likely have one of the spots, likely at strong safety after starting most of last season making 36 tackles with two interceptions and three broken up passes. While he's not as athletic or as talented as Cook, he's a smart playmaker who's growing into a nice pass defender.

Sophomore Darian Stewart saw most of his time on special teams and in mop-up duty as a true freshman finishing with seven tackles. At 218 pounds, he's a big free safety with excellent athleticism.

At corner, sophomore Captain Munnerlyn saw five starts making 36 tackles and two interceptions and also served as a part-time kickoff returner. One of the team's fastest players with 4.3 speed, he'll push Woodson hard for a spot.

Watch Out For ... the safeties to be a strength with Cook and Isaac growing into the jobs. Cook is an emerging superstar who'll be a four-year fixture.
Strength
:
Speed on the outside. If and when Munnerlyn and Thomas are at the corners, there might not be a faster pair in the SEC. These two should be able to outrun most of their mistakes.
Weakness
:
Consistency. The secondary got worse as the season went on (who gives up 228 yards to Arkansas?) and had a nightmare of a time against Kevin Kolb and Houston in the Liberty Bowl. With all the returning experience, everything has to tighten up.
Outlook: The secondary is still growing and emerging as young playmakers like Cook and Munnerlyn figure out the ins and outs of SEC life. This is a fast group that should be stronger and smarter against the top passing teams, and should be helpful in run support. Expect the pass defense to get better as the season goes on.
Rating: 7.5

Special Teams

Projected Starters
:
For an offense that had way too many problems scoring on a consistent basis, having a weapon like junior Ryan Succop was a godsend hitting 16 of 20 field goals with two blocks and one miss hitting the upright. He showed a tremendous deep leg nailing eight of 11 shots from beyond 40 yards highlighted by a 55-yard bomb against Vanderbilt. He also did a fantastic job punting averaging 43.7 yards per kick putting seven inside the 20 even though he had just 29 attempts. How accurate was he? He didn't have any touchbacks.

Watch Out For ... Succop to be a finalist for the Lou Groza. As long as he hits a few nationally televised clutch kicks, he'll be in the hunt.
Strength
:
Succop. He's a weapon with an NFL leg able to bomb away from 55 yards and in on his kicks and blast away as a punter. As long as all the work doesn't affect his production, he'll be one of the team's top players.
Weakness
:
Returns. The Gamecocks averaged a pedestrian 19.2 yards per kickoff return and 7.7 yards on punt return. It was bad enough that Spurrier has gone out of his way to address the need to add more pop.
Outlook: Shane Beamer, the son of the Virginia Tech head coach, has come aboard to help make the special teams far better. The coverage units weren't anything to write home about. Considering USC played in seven games decided by seven points or fewer, an upgrade here is a must.
Rating: 7

 

Related Stories
2007 South Carolina Preview - Offense
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  May 9, 2007
2007 South Carolina Preview - Depth Chart
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 29, 2007
2007 South Carolina Preview
 -by CollegeFootballNews.com  Jul 29, 2007








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