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South Carolina LBs Must Develop Fast

by Dantzler Smith
Apr 13, 2013 11:45 PM EDT



With spring practices underway, South Carolina is preparing for another season with lofty expectations. After reaching 11 wins in 2011 and 2012, the Gamecocks are looking to build upon that sustained success and potentially reach the SEC title game as they did in 2010.

In order to win the SEC East, South Carolina will have to utilize the squad’s strengths and improve on areas of weakness. So what are those strong and weak points in the 2013 Gamecock roster?

For starters, let’s take a look at South Carolina on the defensive side of the ball.

The defensive line is an obvious strength for South Carolina. Jadeveon Clowney is an NFL-ready defensive end. He’ll compel opponents to double-team him on the outside and South Carolina will likely shift Clowney from left to right to confuse prepared blocking schemes. Opposing offensive lines will not only have to possess the talent to slow Clowney, they’ll need the composure to adjust to where he lines up and whether or not he stunts or simply bull rushes toward the backfield. For his part, Clowney needs to dominate opposing offenses more consistently.

All that attention on Clowney will do two things to the Gamecocks’ opposition. First, it will slow down the offense. Quick snaps aren’t advisable when the offensive line will need time to call out checks to the blocking scheme based on how South Carolina has set up. Any amount of confusion on the offensive front will prove costly given the talent the Gamecocks have on the defensive line.

The second thing Clowney does for South Carolina is free up teammates on the defensive line. Defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles doesn’t receive the media attention of Clowney, but opponents will need to account for his presence. The 6-foot-4, 293-pound junior will operate as an inside run stuffer and can provide an interior pass rush. He started all 11 games in which he appeared and amassed eight tackles for a loss with 3.5 sacks.

As deep as the Gamecocks are on the defensive front, Steve Spurrier actually added to that depth by recruiting Kelsey Griffin. At 6-foot-1 and 285 pounds, the highly touted defensive tackle won’t start as a freshman, but will find himself in the rotation. The ability to substitute up front without much of a drop-off in talent will keep the skilled defensive linemen alongside Clowney fresh and all the more capable of getting to the quarterback. And since Clowney will require a double-team, the rest of the front line will get 1-on-1 treatment.

In the end, South Carolina will have a Heisman level talent rushing off the edge and top SEC D-linemen alongside him. That will create havoc along the line of scrimmage, which will slow even high-powered SEC offenses.

The linebacker position, however, is a bit of a soft spot in an otherwise sound defense. South Carolina lost three key players at that position from last year’s team. In an SEC bursting with top tier running backs, there is a steep learning curve for inexperienced players at the linebacker position.

The concern about the weakness at linebacker was apparent in the Gamecocks’ recruiting efforts. South Carolina earned the signatures of four-star recruits Larenz Bryant and Skai Moore.

Bryant was an inside linebacker in high school, but may move to the outside due to his size. At 6-foot-1 and 207 pounds, he lacks the bulk of a typical SEC linebacker. Moore is similarly diminutive, but he’s familiar with the outside linebacker position since he played there in high school. Both are good hitters, sound tacklers and earned a reputation as ball hawks in high school. They'll need to prove themselves at the collegiate level, but both show potential.

Bryant and Moore use speed, agility and intelligence rather than raw power to get in on tackles. As a unit, South Carolina’s linebacker corps will show a similar inclination.

Speed at linebacker, in theory, is an interesting offset to the powerful defensive line. It could develop into a complimentary one-two punch as the defensive line disrupts the line of scrimmage and quick linebackers rush into the open spaces or drop into coverage.

Then again, the inexperience and lack of size at linebacker could be exploited by SEC offenses capable of getting running backs to the defense’s second level. For now, the responsibility will fall to sophomores Cedrick Cooper, Marcquis Roberts and Kaiwan Lewis as well as redshirt freshman and converted tight end Kelvin Rainey.

Who exactly will head up the linebacker unit is uncertain, as is whether or not that unit will be able to step up to the challenges of stopping SEC offenses. It’s certainly something to watch as the Gamecocks prepare for the season and an area that South Carolina must address in order to live up to the high expectations of the 2013 season.