Wow, July has been a busy month. I apologize for my delay in analyzing the rest of the team. I will get the rest up soon, just in time for a final hurrah and overall analysis. Then, back to my Five Keys to a Gamecock Victory series!
While the South Carolina team is full of legitimate star players, the linebacker group is a group of workmanlike players who know how to play. There is no superstar linebacker... just a handful of veteran players who are heady and know how to play football.
Bolstered by the return of two very good linebackers in Shaq Wilson and Rodney Paulk, this group could be the anchor that the Gamecock defense needs.
Of course, South Carolina's scheme doesn't include the traditional 3 or 4 linebacker names... there are middle linebackers, weakside linebackers and a position called the Spur, which is a linebacker/safety hybrid.
For more information on South Carolina's roster, check out the other pieces of my ongoing series.
Year: Redshirt Junior
Pros: Explosive, Agile, consistent tackler, energy level, leadership
Cons: Injury prone, on the small side for a middle linebacker
Shaq Wilson returns from another injury to reestablish himself as the defensive quarterback. He was a pre-season All-SEC selection by various outlets before the his injury riddled 2010 campaign.
Make no mistake; Shaq Wilson can be the heart and soul of this excellent defense. His passion, work ethic and abilities make him a potentially great starter.
This all depends on how well he bounces back from his hamstring issues. If he comes back strong, look for him to lead the team in tackles.
Year: Sixth Year Senior
Pros: Experience, Strength, Intelligence, Effort, Run Stopping Ability
Cons: Speed in pursuit, Injury history
Another great player coming off of injury, Paulk is penciled in as the starter for the weak side linebacker spot, but he could end up floating between the two linebacker positions.
A highly intelligent player, he has made the SEC Academic Honor Roll and won the Harold White GPA award for defense (highest GPA). His intelligence translates onto the field, where he often finds himself in the right place at the right time. He was named a freshman all-American in 2006.
Injuries have since then derailed his football career. In 2008, he injured his knee and received a medical redshirt. In 2009, he tore his ACL. This year, he has been limited in the spring due to his knee getting scoped, which should alleviate some of his nagging pains.
If Paulk and Wilson are both health (granted, that is a big if), they could form one of the better linebacker duos in the SEC.
Pros: Athleticism, quickness, awareness, experience
Cons: Can play with reckless abandon at times, seems to lose some focus during passing plays.
A Phil Steele All-SEC member, Antonio Allen comes in as the Spur starter. He has improved every season since coming to Carolina and looks to make the leap from average to solid player to dynamic and game changing playmaker.
He has the potential if he buckles down and focuses on every down.
Year: Redshirt Junior
Pros: Size, strength, run stopping ability, athleticism
Cons: Injury history, raw speed
Reginald Bowens was named the 2011 Spring Most Improved Linebacker for South Carolina. This bodes well for a guy who has all the talent and athleticism in the world, but has had major injury concerns.
He has great size and is as athletic as any linebacker on the team. He has the skill set to be a star.
As of right now, he is listed as the backup middle linebacker behind Shaq Wilson, and will definitely get a great deal of playing time.
Pros: Excellent athleticism, extremely strong, agile, great in coverage
Cons: Experience (converted from the secondary)
Quin Smith has all of the tools to become an excellent SEC linebacker. He lacks experience, but he has the size, speed and strength to be great. He needs to get used to being used in run support, but will garner some playing time this year.
He had an extremely memorable moment last year when he destroyed Clemson quarterback Tajh Boyd in the fourth quarter, causing him to fumble.
Pros: Athleticism, speed, size, strength, leadership
Cons: Off-field concerns, experience at Spur position (was a safety in 2010)
One of the most talented players on the defense this side of the defensive line not named Stephon Gilmore, Holloman has a ways to go before he reaches what could be his very high potential.
He has some off-field concerns, which seem to be alleviated at this point. Another All-SEC caliber player, the coaching staff hopes that the move to spur will allow Holloman to do what he does best... roam the field, play to his strength (elite athleticism) and lay the wood on some unsuspecting runners.
Look for a breakout year for Holloman in 2011.
Year: Redshirt Junior
Pros: Athleticism, pass rushing ability
Cons: Experience, consistency, strength
A player who has yet to come into his own, Qua Gilchrist is hoping that this is his year to shine. Last season was disappointing. As a hyped 4-star linebacker out of Butler County Community College, the thought was that he would come in and use his skills as a runner and athlete to be a force.
However, he only played in three games, and all on special teams. He missed all of the spring drills because of shoulder surgery. Qua has the ability and athleticism to be a contributor, if he can get on the field.
Pros: Intelligence, athleticism, awareness, hitting power, versatility
Cons: Over aggressive at times
Damario is one of the more underrated players on the defense. He could literally play any of the linebacker spots, and has the athleticism and conditioning to bolster depth by himself.
Got a player tired? Send in Jeffery.
Wardrobe malfunction? Send in Jeffery.
Massive injury? Send in Jeffery.
Get the point?
The linebackers grade out as a B. They have a great deal of talent and even more potential; this group could be one of the SEC's finest.
If they stay healthy.
That is a big if considering how many injury issues this group has. If they stay healthy, they will improve every aspect of the defensive game.