The South Carolina Gamecocks defense has several extremely talented players at linebacker (we touched on the starters yesterday) and that has led to the team practicing the 3-4 defense a lot already in preparing for the start of the season. Here’s a few that caught our eye.
T.J. Holloman (6-2, 234 lb. RS-sophomore) will definitely get playing time and push Kaiwan Lewis on that starting Mike position. Last season, he played in all 13 games and started in three of them as a linebacker. Not only did TJ have 44 tackles, but also three interceptions en route to a third-team Freshman All-American selection for his strong performance. Behind both Holloman and Lewis is Marcquis Roberts (6-1, 216 lb. RS-sophomore), who not only played in all 13 games last season, but started in nine of them. He was fifth on the team in tackles with 48, including 3.5 for a loss. He can easily shift between multiple lineback roles as well, which makes him even more valuable. Behind Moore is Jonathan Walton (6-0, 228 lb. sophomore) who played in all 13 games last season. He didn’t have a lot of stats piled on last year, but saw consistent time on the field, and then in the spring was named “Most Improved Freshman” on the defensive side.Behind Golightly is not one, but two really talented players. Jordan Diggs (6-0, 217, RS sophomore) also played in all 13 games last season, and finished with 25 tackles, including four for a loss. He was selected as the “Most Improved Spur” in the spring drills. Diggs had started his true freshman year but was injured early on and was redshirted. Rounding out this talented group is Larenz Bryant (6-0, 220 lb. sophomore) who played in 12 games last season as a true freshman. Bryant came out of high school as the 44th best player overall and 4th best inside linebacker, with some great speed and range. Even though last year doesn’t seem like a lot on the paper, the experience he gained combined with his natural skills will make him a force to be dealt with, and give the defense a ton of depth at the linebacker position. And if the Gamecocks truly move to more of a 3-4, Bryant has a strong chance of starting at the new BoB position.
But this would also create the need for more players ready here, and that means two more players we need to look at. Bryson Allen-Williams (6-1, 231 lb.) is a true freshman and highly rated coming out of high school in Ellenwood, GA. He is expected to quickly make an impact on the team and should see plenty of playing time at this new position with Bryant. Last but not least is Mason Harris (6-3, 235 lb. RS junior) who has played both defensive end and linebacker over the past two seasons, experience that will help with the team moving to the 3-4 this season. Harris played in 12 games last season, with much of it on special teams, and has won the “Everyday Effort” award and Defensive Player of the Spring the past two springs, respectively.
As you can see, a position that last year was somewhat of a struggle could be a huge strength for the Gamecocks this year. Having so much talent in this area is a big reason for the defensive move to a 3-4, and they certainly have the players to step in and yet still have great depth behind those people as well. There has been a lot of talk during the offseason about the challenges the Gamecocks could face after losing some of its star defensive players, and that has apparently provided even more motivation to these players to step up and show what they can do. All in all, the biggest issue Lorenzo Ward and his coordinators may have is just getting enough playing time for each of these talented players.