South Carolina Football: How Gamecocks Will Replace Every Departing Starter
South Carolina has had a great three-year run. They've gone 31-9 and competed for the SEC East in each of those three years, winning it once.
However, the Gamecocks are entering perhaps their most daunting and important offseason ever. While the team has plenty of talent, it's losing some of the biggest names the roster has ever seen. The seniors on this list won a total of 38 games, the most in the history of the program.
This list of departing starters reads like a who's-who of football talent, and if you are a Gamecock fan, is a fairly depressing thing to look at.
Marcus Lattimore, Ace Sanders, Devin Taylor, Shaq Wilson, D.J. Swearinger...these were all quality players with tons of heart that helped create the newfound culture of winning that is now found throughout the program.
Do the Gamecocks have the depth to weather the loss of 11 of 22 starters? Two of these players may end up being considered legendary Gamecocks (Lattimore and Swearinger). How do you replace them?
It will be difficult, but the team is stocked with enough talent and enough returning superstars to do just that.
Running Backs Marcus Lattimore/ Kenny Miles
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Marcus Lattimore will always be seen as the face of the Gamecocks. He's the new George Rogers, even though Rogers won the Heisman.
Lattimore brought the culture of change with him and showed that the Gamecocks could, in fact, recruit elite talent.
His on-the-field work was impeccable as well. There is no doubt that if he would have stayed healthy he would have broken every single rushing record the Gamecocks hold.
However, due to his knee issues, he never got that chance, so Kenny Miles got to start numerous times throughout his career.
To replace Lattimore as a person will be incredibly difficult. To replace his on-field production may not be quite as daunting.
The Gamecocks are loaded at running back. Mike Davis is a freshman with the chops to be a superstar runner. Brandon Wilds will be a force in short-yardage situations. These two players could actually improve the Gamecocks running game. Add in Shon Carson and the influx of young talent, and they're set here.
Tight End Justice Cunningham
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One of my favorite players on the team, Justice Cunningham did everything he was asked to and more. He was an incredible blocker and a fierce competitor. He had his fair share of highlights.
I'll never forget his clutch catch against Vanderbilt that send his helmet flying off and his dreads sailing. He picked up his helmet and trotted off the field like a man. It was exhilarating.
He was a blue-collar tight end, and will be missed.
Taking his place are two high-flying receiving ends in Rory Anderson and Jerell Adams. These twin towers have tons of speed and great hands, but have to employ some of the blocking that made Cunningham such a great all-around tight end.
These two will almost certainly change the role of the tight end for 2013.
Wide Receiver Ace Sanders
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With Ace Sanders entering the draft, the Gamecocks will have to replace their No. 1 receiver. There are two options.
Will Bruce Ellington slide over from the position that he's most familiar with on the other side of the field? Will Shaq Roland rise up from Ace Sanders' backup position?
The role will go to Roland, who is being heralded as the next great South Carolina receiver in a long line of great receivers. He has the skills to be the No. 1 man. He's got to work on his concentration and bulk up. However, 2013 will be a breakout year for the young man with the bright future.
Center T.J. Johnson
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T.J. Johnson started more games than any other player in the history of Gamecock football. He was an anchor on the offensive line and was a major leader on the team.
Cody Waldrop will be the starter next year. He's a vicious beast of a center. It remains to be seen whether or not his ferocity will carry over to being an excellent and long-term starter at center.
Defensive Tackle Byron Jerideau
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Byron Jerideau was a good player. His strength was unparalleled. It took him until his senior year to finally get the conditioning and work ethic down. Now that he has, he has to leave. Hopefully, he'll keep it up and get a chance as a huge space-eating tackle in the NFL.
However, now we will have the opportunity to put a high-motor defensive tackle like Gerald Dixon Jr. in this spot. There are plenty of great defensive tackles and defensive ends on the team that will be able to absorb the loss of Mr. Jerideau.
Dixon Jr. should get the first crack.
Defensive End Devin Taylor
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Devin Taylor's draft stock may have taken a hit by staying for his senior year. He was a solid performer throughout his career, but Jadeveon Clowney took a great deal of attention and production from the former All-SEC player.
That being said, he's a great player and will be successful at the next level. His first step and vision were that of an All-American. If his strength improved just a bit more through his collegiate career, he'd have been a slam dunk NFL first-round pick.
Chaz Sutton will take over the starting role, and may actually be an improvement. He creates havoc when he's on the field and is a powerful and fast end.
He may be the perfect complement to Jadeveon Clowney.
Middle Linebacker Reginald Bowens
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Here's where it gets tricky. Reginald Bowens was a solid linebacker. While never a star, he was experienced and a leader of the team.
Let's be honest here. The Gamecocks are woefully thin at linebacker, and the ones that are on board do not have much in terms of production or experience.
In fact, this position (along with the weak-side linebacker position) will be the most difficult to replace.
That being said, youngster Kaiwan Lewis has enough talent to really explode at the middle linebacker position. If he can wrap his head around being the leader of the defense, then he should excel. He'll need to bulk up some.
Weak-Side Linebacker Shaq Wilson
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Shaq Wilson has been around for years. This fifth-year senior was undersized but made a definite impact on the team. He flew around the field and had a nose for the ball. He also seemed to make big interceptions when they were needed most. He was a playmaker.
He will be missed.
Kelvin Rainey, a converted tight end, has the athleticism to be that type of player for the Gamecocks. He's almost a taller version of Wilson.
Like Lewis, if he can wrap his brain around the linebacker position, then the team will be just fine.
Spur DeVonte Holloman
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DeVonte Holloman was an excellent spur. A crushing hitter, he had his fair share of memorable moments during his solid Carolina career. At 6'2", 241 pounds, he was a monster and tackling machine.
Taking his place will possibly be the much smaller Sharrod Golightly, who has played well for such a young player, or the athletically gifted Jordan Diggs.
Diggs possibly has the most upside. Golightly may start the year as the No. 1 spur, but Diggs may end up as a defensive star.
The spur position is in good hands either way.
Free Safety D.J. Swearinger
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There is no one on this team that can replace the attitude, work ethic, and productivity of a player like D.J. Swearinger. He's a once-in-a-generation safety. One that makes plays happen, hits viciously and has a mean streak.
He falls as one of my all-time favorite Gamecocks.
Kadetrix Marcus and Chaz Elder will get the first crack. These two are talented players who must try to channel some of D.J. "Jungle Boi" Swearinger's viciousness. If they can get the mindset to play like him, they have the athleticism to do so.
Football is a mental game, more so than most people realize. It takes attitude to go with athleticism.