Preview 2008 - Defense
2008 CFN South Carolina Preview |
2008 South Carolina
2008 South Carolina
2008 South Carolina
2007 CFN South Carolina Preview |
2006 CFN South
What you need to know:
A major disappointment last year
thanks to a slew of injury problems, the D is loaded and could
be among the best in the SEC if everyone can stay on the field.
The biggest boost is the return of LB Jasper Brinkley after
suffering a knee injury, while the linebacking corps will
undergo a bit of a change with end Eric Norwood swapping spots
with LB Cliff Matthews. There's plenty of star power with
Brinkley, Norwood, CB Captain Munnerlyn, SS Emanuel Cook, and DT
Ladi Ajiboye all certain to earn all-star honors, and now
someone has to stop the run. USC finished first in the SEC in
pass defense, but that's partly because everyone pounded the
ball. That should change with massive size in the front seven
and most of the key parts healthy again.
Emanuel Cook, 92
Eric Norwood, 6
Interceptions: Emanuel Cook, Captain Munnerlyn, 3
Star of the defense: Senior LB Jasper Brinkley
Player who has to step up and become a star: Senior DE
Unsung star on the rise: Freshman CB Akeem Auguste
Best pro prospect: Brinkley
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Brinkley, 2) CB Captain
Munnerlyn, 3) SS Emanuel Cook
Strength of the defense: Experience, back seven
Weakness of the defense:
Proven run defense from the front four, health
Projected Starters: Looking to break out and star is
6-1, 300-pound sophomore Ladi Ajiboye at tackle after starting
for most of last year making 39 tackles with three sacks. Extremely
quick and strong at getting into the backfield, he has the athleticism
and the tools to go along with the size, and while he was inconsistent
last year, the talent is there to be a superstar and a good NFL
Next to Ajiboye will likely be 6-1, 292-pound junior Nathan Pepper,
but there will be a steady rotation and a battle for the starting job.
Pepper saw time inside and out stepping in at end at times to go along
with his work at tackle, before suffering a knee injury in the third
game of the year. He finished with five tackles and an interception in
his limited time, and now he needs to return to his old athletic form in
a hurry or he'll be out of a spot.
With Eric Norwood moving to end, Cliff Matthews will move back to
end after making 26 tackles as an outside linebacker. The 6-4, 250-pound
sophomore is a good pass rusher and has the explosiveness off the line
to bring consistent pressure, and while he's good at stopping the run,
he needs to hit the quarterback.
While Matthews is a big-time athlete, 6-3, 261-pound senior Jordin
Lindsey is a plugger. More like a linebacker playing end, he's
always working and he's a decent all-around lineman, making 37 tackles
and a sack two years ago, he missed all of last year with academic
Projected Top Reserves: How healthy is Marque
Hall? Considered to be one of the top lineman recruits the program
had ever landed, the 6-3, 314-pound senior has had health problems with
a torn ACL in 2006, and he was never quite right last year making 22
tackles with a sack and five quarterback hurries. He's a big run stopper
who has the potential to start, but he needs to be back to form.
Pushing Pepper hard for a tackle spot, and possibly an opening day
starter, will be 6-2, 290-pound senior Jonathan Williams, one of
the best tackles in spring ball. The former JUCO transfer had a decent
first year making 13 tackles with a sack. While he's not special, he's a
strong option who should do far more.
Sophomore Travian Robertson is listed at end, but
the 6-4, listed-at-270-pounder (who's likely much bigger in
reality), might end up at tackle. He made seven tackles last
season and was great all off-season. He'll find time somewhere
6-7, 290-pound sophomore Clifton Geathers is another
tackle-sized end who'll work behind Lindsey. He got bigger over
the last year, but he hasn't lost any quickness and is expected
to grow into a dangerous all-around playmaker after coming up
with two tackles in a reserve role.
On the way is star JUCO transfer Jarriel King, a 6-7,
285-pounder who could be moved to the offensive side if needed.
He'll start out at end but will likely end up at tackle before
the season is over. Originally a Gamecock in 2005, he didn't get
his grades up and ended up shining for Georgia Military College.
Watch Out For ... Ajiboye. He was good last year
in his first season on the inside, and now he's about to
explode. He has the size, the quickness, and the skills to be a
special inside force to revolve an entire defensive line around.
Strength: Size and potential. The Gamecocks loaded up over the
last few recruiting classes with good linemen, and while they
haven't all panned out for a variety of reasons, there's talent
up front. Size-wise, few in the SEC are bigger with the
potential for four tackle-sized players to man the front wall
and any time.
Weakness: Production. Injuries and suspensions were a big part
of the problem, but even with the problems, the line was too big
and too strong to be as bad as it was against the run. This
group got its butt kicked way too often.
Outlook: After USC allowed 147 rushing yards per
game in 2007, things got even worse allowing 209 yards per game
while struggling to generate any consistent pressure. That
should change with the expected emergence of sophomores Ajiboye
and Matthews, and with good depth and huge size, the overall
production should be far better. If this isn't the most improved
lines in the SEC, it'll be second.
Projected Starters: the bad news was that senior
Jasper Brinkley missed almost all of last year with a bad
knee injury, making 21 tackles, two interceptions and a tackle
for loss in four games. The good news is that he's back after
being given a year of eligibility. Listed at 6-2 and 275 pounds,
although he's working on getting a bit lighter, he's one of the
nation's best middle linebackers with the ability to get into
the backfield on a regular basis and the speed to be all over
the field. The former star JUCO transfer missed all of spring
ball, but he's expected to be back and ready to roll by the
start of the season. He might not be quite the same player, but
he'll still be one of the SEC's best if he's at 80%.
In one of the big moves of the spring, 6-1, 270-pound junior end
Eric Norwood will move to weakside linebacker to allow
Cliff Matthews to move to end. Norwood finished second on the
team with 69 tackles with six sacks, 19.5 tackles for loss, nine
quarterback hurries and three fumbles, and now he's expected to
be even better with more room to move. Now the key is to get
smaller. Hardly out of shape, he's a bit bulky for the position.
The goal is to get down about 15-20 pounds so he can be even
Working on the strongside will be Gerrod Sinclair, a 6-0,
234-pound junior who has the speed and upside to come up with a
breakout year. Rarely healthy, he hasn't been able to show what
he could do on a regular basis making just 15 tackles last year.
With Brinkley and Norwood to work next to, Sinclair should
Projected Top Reserves: Working behind Brinkley in
the middle will be Rodney Paulk, a very active, lighter
option. The 6-0, 226-pound junior made plays all over the field
as an outside linebacker last season making 64 tackles with a
sack and 4.5 tackles for loss, and while he's not the most
talented of the linebackers, he's always doing something to make
5-11, 228-pound senior Marvin Sapp is a weakside
linebacker thrown into the middle after Brinkley got hurt, and
he came up with 61 tackles and a tackle for loss. Very fast and
with a good career as a fill-in, he'll be used across the corps
when healthy. He suffered a broken ankle before the season last
year, and this year he also missed spring ball hurt.
Bringing more speed to the
strongside is Antonio Allen, a 6-2, 190-pound true
freshman who came to USC as a strong safety but will work at
linebacker early on. A great hitter who doesn't miss tackles,
he'll be an interesting prospect to keep an eye on with good
athleticism and nice pop.
Watch Out For ... a HUGE jump in production. This
was supposed to be one of the team's strengths until injuries
hit, but with Norwood moving to outside linebacker and Brinkley
back, things will only get better.
Strength: Size. There's too much of it as Brinkley and Norwood
try to slim down, but even if they do drop the pounds they'll
still check in around 260 when all is said and done. Sinclair is
a decent-sized 234.
Weakness: Pass defense. It didn't matter much last year
considering the Gamecocks led the SEC in pass defense, but the
linebackers are mostly run stoppers going into this year. It's
not that they can't run, it's that they're not the best in pass
Outlook: This will certainly be an interesting mix
of talents. If Brinkley is close to being Brinkley again, the
linebacking corps automatically becomes one of the SEC's best.
Norwood has to prove he can handle the move to linebacker, a
position he hasn't played since high school, while Sinclair
could be a breakout performer. The backups are solid, but the
hope is that they're not needed like they were last year.
Staying healthy is a must.
Projected Starters: The Gamecocks are deep at corner led
by 5-9, 185-pound junior Captain Munnerlyn. While he
missed spring ball thanks to a foot problem, he'll be back and
ready to roll after making 47 tackles with three interceptions
and four broken up passes in an all-star season. He's not that
big, but he's a great hitter with 4.3 speed. He's a true No. 1
Working on the other side will be Carlos Thomas, a 5-11,
197-pound senior who started out his career as a receiver. He
made 17 tackles and broke up six passes, and while he has been
inconsistent and will be pushed hard for a starting spot, he's
one of the team's fastest players with the type of skills that
translate well to the NFL combine.
Last year at this time, junior
Emanuel Cook was in a battle for a starting job. All he
did was lead the team with 92 tackles with four sacks, eight
tackles for loss, three interceptions and five broken up passes
in just 11 games at the rover, or strong safety. Staying healthy
is an issue for the big hitter, having the most problems with a
knee injury, but he's a sure tackler and an all-star to work the
Also back is junior Darian Stewart at free safety. The
5-11, 218-pounder was third on the team with 68 tackles and two
interceptions with seven tackles for loss. He showed this spring
that he's far more familiar with the position and played faster
and smarter. The top athlete should earn all-star honors if he
continues to improve.
Projected Top Reserves: Ready to take over a
starting corner role sooner than later is true freshman Akeem
Auguste, a confident 5-9, 179-pound playmaker who was one of
the biggest stars of spring ball. A true cover-corner who made
plays all off-season, he'll work behind Thomas at one spot, but
will see plenty of time somewhere in the secondary mix.
5-11, 197-pound senior Stoney Woodson is a nice
all-around veteran to have in reserve. While he'll start out at
corner, he can play either safety spot. More suited to free
safety thanks to his excellent speed and questionable tackling
ability, he'll see time as a nickel back after making 26 tackles
with an interception and four broken up passes. He can be a
starter without a problem.
6-2, 200-pound redshirt freshman Mark Barnes was a high
school defensive back, tried his hand at receiver in practices
last year, and now will be one of the best young combinations of
speed and size of any SEC strong safety. He's a true defensive
back with nice hitting ability and a good feel for the play when
the ball is in the air.
Watch Out For ... Auguste. The corners are already
set with Munnerlyn and Thomas, but the precocious true freshman
might find a way to shoehorn himself in the mix. He's too good
to keep off the field.
Strength: Experience and stats. This was the SEC's No. 1 pass
defense last year and everyone comes back. Not only is everyone
returning, but with the emergence of Auguste and Barnes, things
are even better.
Weakness: Overrated stats and health. Yeah, USC was No. 1 in the
SEC, and fourth in the nation, against the pass, but that's
partly because everyone ran the ball on the Gamecocks. Tim Tebow
was able to throw without a problem, and Matthew Stafford, Andre
Woodson, Cullen Harper and Erik Ainge all threw for over 200
yards. Staying healthy is a must, and that's not a given
considering the injury issues across the board from Munnerlyn's
foot to Cook's knee to Barnes' shoulder.
As long as everyone stays healthy, this will be
one of the nation's most productive secondaries. It's the real
deal with Munnerlyn, Thomas, and Cook all good enough to see
time in an NFL camp in the near future, while the reserves are
promising with Auguste and Barnes future stars of the SEC. More
interceptions would be nice, after coming up with just 14 last
year as a team, but they should come.
Projected Starters: Senior Ryan Succop is one of
the nation's best placekickers hitting 27 of 37 field goals over the
last two years, with one miss hitting the upright and his four misses
last year all coming from behind 40 yards. He's a big-legged all-star
who hit a 55-yard bomb two years ago, and he also worked as the team's
punter averaging 41.6 yards per kick while putting 15 inside the 20.
Sophomore Spencer Lanning could help out a bit on the punting
CB Captain Munnerlyn is a strong punt returner
averaging a nice 9.2 yards per try, while FS Chris Culliver
averaged 23.8 yards per kickoff return.
Watch Out For ... fewer blocked kicks. Three punts
were blocked last year, and new special teams coach Ray
Rychleski was brought in to specifically stop those from
Strength: Succop and the return game. He's one of the nation's
most reliable mid-range kickers, while the return game is
rock-solid. It's not special, but it's good.
Weakness: Kickoff coverage. The Gamecocks averaged 22.4 yards
per kickoff return, but they allowed 23.9 yards per try.
Outlook: The special teams were good last year,
and they could be great with a little more pop in the punting
game and a bit more production on returns. Succop will be in the
hunt for the Lou Groza Award if he can hit a few more deep
kicks, while he should split some time as the punter. Munnerlyn
and Culliver are good returners.