South Carolina has to call on young linebackers
South Carolina has All-American Jadeveon Clowney up front and a
solid secondary behind. In the middle, though, is where the
defensive questions begin for the sixth-ranked Gamecocks.
South Carolina lost five senior linebackers from one of the
Southeastern Conference’s top defenses a year ago. Shaq Wilson,
Reggie Bowens, Quin Smith and Demario Jeffery took nearly every
snap at the position in 2012 while DeVonte Holloman was one of the
team’s top playmakers from his hybrid spot of strong
That means South Carolina will rely on a group of untested
youngsters as they look to keep opponents in check, starting with
North Carolina on Aug. 29.
”We have the right players to get this done,” said Marcquis
Roberts, a redshirt sophomore who may be the oldest of the young
The Gamecocks will find out quickly if Roberts is right. They
open against the up-tempo Tar Heels who feature an experienced
quarterback in Bryn Renner who attended the Manning Passing Camp
North Carolina offensive coordinator Blake Anderson said the
Gamecocks talent at the linebacking position can make up for
inexperience because those young players took advantage of their
time on the field last year.
”Even though they’re not penciled in as starters a year ago,
they’re playing a significant amount of snaps,” Anderson said.
”They can fly, they’ve got tremendous team speed.”
South Carolina linebackers coach Kirk Botkin wishes he had the
same comfort. He joked before last season when he took the
assistant’s job that he’d wait to see how good he’d do when he
”didn’t have five seniors on the roster.”
That time is now.
Roberts is making a strong push to start against the Tar Heels.
Cedrick Cooper had been counted on for a spot, but has spent most
of camp on the sidelines with an elbow injury. T.J. Holloman and
Kiawan Lewis were around last season with first-year players Larenz
Bryant, Skai Moore and Jonathan Walton making a push for playing
”We’re young and we like to fly around,” Walton said. ”Our
whole linebacker corps, we’ve been working on that a lot.”
Botkin believes the young group paid attention last year from
the sidelines when Wilson led the team in tackles and Holloman had
a team best three interceptions. Botkin quizzed them hard at
meetings, he said, and made sure they soaked up as much as possible
to prepare for this season.
”They’re doing a great job paying attention and focusing in on
the tiny details of their position,” Botkin said.
When people think of South Carolina’s defense, they think mostly
of Clowney, the 6-foot-6, 274-pound lineman who had 13 sacks a year
ago. Clowney’s part of a deep and talented front line that includes
Chaz Sutton at the other end and Kelcy Quarles at defensive
The Gamecocks secondary should also be a strength with
cornerbacks Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree. Hampton started 12
games a year and Legree eight.
Legree’s not too worried about the inexperience at
”Of course, they’re young and they’re going to make mistakes,”
he said. ”But they’ve got talent. I trust them.”
How well the linebacker perform will go a long way to
determining if South Carolina can continue its rise in the SEC. The
Gamecocks have won 11 games in consecutive years for the first time
in school history.
Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said the linebackers the
team’s brought in the past few classes are highly regarded, but
just haven’t reached the field yet.
”You’ve got guys who don’t have experience playing the game
yet, but I can tell you we’re excited about the young guys we’ve
got because they’re athletic,” Ward said. ”They all can run.
We’ll wait to see how they can tackle, but I feel confident they
are going to be good at that, too.”
Roberts was injured his first two years with the team and is
finally healthy and ready to contribute. He says he learned a lot
watching the Gamecocks former linebackers.
”All of them were great leaders and they taught me the plays,”
Roberts said. ”I plan to follow in their footsteps.”
AP Sports Writer Aaron Beard in Raleigh, N.C., contributed to