Captain Munnerlyn, Kenny McKinley Lead '08 Carolina Gamecocks
He's one of the fastest corners in the SEC, has fantastic hands, and quarterbacks fear throwing to his side of the field.
I'm talking of course about Captain Munnerlyn, the All-SEC cornerback for the South Carolina Gamecocks who anchors what promises to be one of the league's top defenses.
Sure, Carolina had a major problem stopping the run last year. Perhaps "major" isn't even the correct word when a team gives up over 500 yards on the ground to Arkansas.
However, with the addition of new defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, the defense should improve greatly against the run. His approach will combine nicely with their already nationally ranked pass defense, in which Munnerlyn was a key player.
Joining him in the defensive backfield will be speedy free safety Chris Culliver whose excellent hands and 4.28 40-time will reap a score or two off interceptions this season.
The defensive backfield isn't the only strong suit in Carolina this season. Jasper Brinkley returns at linebacker with Freshman All-SEC defensive end Cliff Matthews anchoring the line.
Brinkley missed most of the 2007 season after tearing his ACL, but progressed well in his rehab, and recorded 21 tackles (15 solo) in his four games played during the 2007 season.
Other notable defensive players to watch are All-SEC linebacker Eric Norwood, linebacker Rodney Paulk, and defensive back Emmanuel Cook. The Lindsey twins also return to the Gamecocks' defensive line.
The real question for the Gamecocks is who will step up at quarterback? While there is never a clear-cut answer with Steve Spurrier, Tommy Beecher wouldn't be a bad idea.
Beecher is more mobile than Chris Smelley, and until the offensive line proves it can gel together and block, the Gamecocks need a good all-around quarterback taking snaps.
The strongest piece to this Carolina offense is the receiver corps. Led by All-SEC wide receiver Kenny McKinley, this group should be catching many scores regardless of who lines up under center.
McKinley's SEC-leading 77 receptions set a school-record, while his nine touchdowns tied for second best in the SEC. His decision to return to Carolina for his senior season gives the Gamecocks a solid go-to-receiver.
Right behind McKinley is sophomore receiver Dion Lecorn, who had 16 receptions for 215 yards and two touchdowns during the season's final three games. He should haul in well over 500 receiving yards in the upcoming season.
Steve Spurrier doesn't make receiving exclusive to the wide-outs. Tight ends Weslye Saunders and Jared Cook (30 receptions, 421 yards) provide talented big men to look to up the middle.
Other notable receivers to watch for include Larry Freeman, Jason Barnes, Moe Brown, and Freddie Brown.
Finally, running backs Mike Davis and Brian Maddox should power the ground attack much like the Davis-Boyd split, which worked so well in past seasons. Davis carried the ball 114 times for 518 yards and five scores in '07.
Also, look for kicker Ryan Succop to rebound from an off-season to continue his record success at Carolina.
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