While South Carolina will return a significant amount of players from its elite defense in 2013, the Gamecocks have a glaring hole at linebacker after losing five seniors at that position.
With Shaq Wilson, DeVonte Holloman, Reginald Bowens, Quin Smith and Damario Jeffery all having used up their eligibility at South Carolina, the Gamecocks need their young linebackers to step up.
Though they do have several young studs, such as Kaiwan Lewis and Mason Harris, already waiting in the wings in Columbia, one incoming freshman in Steve Spurrier's 2013 recruiting class stands out as a potential immediate impact player.
Larenz Bryant, a 4-star linebacker who is the nation's fourth-ranked inside linebacker by Rivals, has the talent and athleticism to see significant playing time upon his arrival on campus.
Byrant only weighs 210 pounds, but he makes up for it with his 4.58 speed and impressive range. Those assets translate well onto the field, as the young linebacker has outstanding closing speed and can catch opponents from anywhere on the field.
Due to his slight frame, Bryant will likely spend most of his time on the outside at South Carolina, perhaps in place of the departing weak-side linebacker Wilson, a long-time veteran who only weighs 224 pounds himself.
The North Carolina native demonstrates excellent blitzing ability as well, often getting into the backfield before his opponents know what hit them. This asset will be a key addition to Lorenzo Ward's aggressive defense in 2013.
Back in 2012, Ward told Willie T. Smith III of GreenvilleOnline.com:
"When we saw what we had when we used the rabbit package on third downs (playing four defensive ends up front), we feel like we didn’t have to bring pressure all the time," Ward said. "We probably would have to bring more if we didn’t come up with that particular package, but we really didn’t have to blitz as much."
With the loss of athletic defensive end Devin Taylor, whose long strides and 6'8" frame were some of the biggest reasons for the success of the "rabbit package," Ward will likely have to bring more heat from his young, athletic linebacker corps in 2013.
Bryant is definitely capable of contributing to Ward's aggressive game plan. However, he does have some areas where he would need to improve.
According to ESPN's Chris Low, Spurrier complimented his defensive coordinator by explaining that he's "coaching a very sound, fundamental scheme."
If Bryant wants to make an early impact, he'll have to improve on just that—the fundamentals. The incoming freshman was able to get by in high school with his physicality and athleticism, often tackling high with his arms instead of getting low and running through the tackle with his body.
In the SEC, Bryant will have to improve on wrapping up and lowering his body to take down the likes of Todd Gurley and T.J. Yeldon if he wants to succeed.
Nonetheless, Bryant's talent, potential and athleticism will provide the Gamecocks, at the very least, some much-needed depth and upside in an inexperienced corps of linebackers.
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