South Carolina needs its youngsters to produce at linebacker, a position that has been looming with uncertainty this spring.
So far, the Gamecocks are taking all of the right steps to prepare their young corps of linebackers for the 2013 season.
Here is a breakdown of the linebacker depth chart for the South Carolina Gamecocks.
Spurrier and his staff, specifically linebackers coach Kirk Botkin, need to fill the void at linebacker. The Gamecocks run a 4-2-5 base defense and will look for underclassmen to step up and play the "Mike" and "Will" linebacker positions.
Botkin is making all of the right moves early in the spring practice season by bombarding his youngsters with film study and constant quizzing of coverages and reads.
Redshirt freshman T.J. Holloman is already having a major impact in the film room by showcasing his defensive intellectual talent.
Darryl Slater of The Post and Courier says:
When Botkin asks his linebackers to identify something on the screen or describe what gap they’re supposed to fill on a play, he rarely stumps Holloman, a redshirt freshman who has quickly established himself as one of USC’s smartest players and a potentially valuable member of a position group that lost all three starters after last season.
Botkin is recognizing that he has a superior talent in Holloman who can also make the correct calls on the field when analyzing the opposing team’s offensive sets.
Sophomore Kaiwan Lewis could join Holloman as one of the two middle starting linebackers. Lewis played on special teams in 2012 and is turning heads this spring.
Botkin told Slater of The Post and Courier, “Both of those guys [Holloman and Lewis] are doing, for young guys, outstanding jobs of setting the fronts, talking, communicating,”
The linebacker position needs leadership, communication skills and solid play to anchor the defense, and right now Holloman and Lewis are showing they both have what it takes despite being very young players.
Redshirt sophomore Cedrick Cooper is out for the spring after undergoing knee surgery, but could compete for a starting role in the fall. Either way, Cooper will be used a lot and should have an impact on the depth chart.
The trio of Holloman, Lewis and Cooper will play a majority of the defensive snaps, but Botkin has a pair of quick, hybrid linebackers who can have an impact further down on the depth chart and at the Spur linebacker slot.
Redshirt freshman Jordan Diggs and redshirt junior Sharrod Golightly are fast, small hybrid players who are currently competing to start at the Spur linebacker position. Diggs and Golightly’s agility and coverage abilities will provide much needed depth and athleticism to the squad of linebackers. These two will be very important in coverage matchups with slot receivers and athletic tight ends.
Linebacker is the position of concern going into the 2013 season, yet the Gamecocks’ coaching staff is seeing quick learning and impressive displays of talent early on in spring ball.
Holloman, Lewis, Cooper, Diggs and Golightly are the five linebackers who will make up the core of the position.
Look for Holloman to take over as the leader with his defensive smarts, ability to read offenses and quick learning in the film room. Meanwhile, Lewis will give an edge at the top of the depth chart.
Do not forget about Cooper, who will be a key part of this group of linebackers once he returns from his knee injury. Cooper has what it takes to play at both the Mike and Will slots.
Diggs and Golightly will split time, but Diggs is more athletically gifted at 6’0” and 197 pounds with some good speed and coverage instincts. He is a prototypical hybrid player who will be very important for the Spur linebacker position.
After these five, redshirt freshman tight end Kelvin Rainey could make a strong impact on the depth chart, as he is converting to linebacker this spring to assist at the position and due to the team having multiple options at tight end. As a tight end, Rainey has great hands and impressive athleticism to make plays in coverage. Rainey also has speed to cut the edge on the offensive line as a pass-rusher.
It is a huge jump to make from offense to defense, but Rainey is showing early signs of making a successful transition to linebacker.
South Carolina’s linebacker depth chart looked weak and entered the spring with many questions, yet the players are stepping up and Botkin is molding them into a solid group of linebackers who will be ready to play in the fall.