Preview 2007 - Defense
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2006 CFN South
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.