With only six returning starters, the South Carolina football team’s defense will have a new look in 2014. South Carolina football has recently relied on a dominant defense, and there’s no reason that should stop even with so many newcomers. Here’s a look at my defensive depth chart.
Defensive line coach Deke Adams will have his hands full as he tries to replace All-American players Jadeveon Clowney and Kelcy Quarles and fifth-year senior Chaz Sutton. Senior defensive tackle J.T. Suratt will anchor a line that has a lot of catching up to do. The line was the strength of the defense last year, and the newcomers will need to gel as quickly as possible. Suratt, with 14 career starts, will hold down one defensive tackle spot, and junior Gerald Dixon Jr. will likely start alongside him.
Dixon Jr. is the son of a former South Carolina defensive lineman and figures to be an imposing force in the interior of the line. The 323-pound lineman has great size to be an effective run-stopper and should fit in nicely after playing well as a backup in 2013. Phillip Dukes and Abu Lamin will likely feature as well during the 2014 season. Lamin, a JUCO product, was named the Rex Enright Defensive Player of the Spring by the coaches and will definitely be in the game-plan for Adams. Lamin has three years of eligibility and will be a well-known name before his Gamecock career is over.
Defensive end is the position that is under a lot of scrutiny now that Clowney is gone. The two likely starters are sophomores Gerald Dixon and Darius English. Dixon is the half-brother of Dixon Jr. (Sports Grid). Dixon has the pedigree to be a successful lineman and Darius English has added bulk to the speed that made him an attractive prospect. Neither player is Clowney, but both work extremely hard and have talent. Cedrick Cooper, moved from linebacker, and Mason Harris will also see some time at end this year.
South Carolina’s linebacker corps may be the most underrated in the entire SEC. A unit that was baptized by fire in 2013 is now the heart and soul of the Gamecock defense. Junior Kaiwan Lewis and sophomore Skai Moore will lead a young, but experienced group of linebackers looking to make a mark on the league this fall. Lewis finished with the third-most tackles on the team last season and Moore was on the second-team Freshman All-American squad.
If the Gamecocks continue to play their unique 4-2-5 formation, Lewis will start at Mike linebacker and Moore will start at Will linebacker. Sophomore T.J. Holloman will likely back Lewis up. The sophomore saw a fair amount of play time in 2013 and has learned a lot from Lewis. Marcquis Roberts is listed as the third string option at Mike, but Roberts started nine games last year and registered 48 tackles (fifth on the team) in his first healthy year as a Gamecock. He is clearly behind Lewis and Moore, but he should be a deputy to Moore and make it onto the field regularly. Sophomore Jonathon Walton, most improved defender in the spring, will feature as well this season.
The man that succeeded Antonio Allen and DeVonte Holloman at this hybrid linebacker/safety position is Sharrod Golightly. The player with one of the best names in college football, Golightly has a ton of responsibility in keeping the secondary protected. The senior had 47 tackles last year and is the clear number one choice to start. When he is subbed out, expect Jordan Diggs to be the man that relieves him.
The two starting corners from last year are gone, and the coaches are scrambling to figure out the best solution for the 2014 season. Fifth-year senior Sidney Rhodes seems to have one of the starting positions locked down. The former walk-on knows the ins and outs of the position, and his experience should prove invaluable. Rico McWilliams will likely start as well. The sophomore from Hampton, GA played a bit part role last year and will be pushed into the starting role this year without a ton of experience. Former running back Jamari Smith and redshirt freshman Ali Groves will likely be the backups.
Senior Brison Williams, who can also play corner, will start at strong safety for the Gamecocks. The leader of the secondary, Williams is an extremely versatile player and can handle adversity calmly. His 24 starts will mean so much as he tries to lead a young, but talented group in 2014. Sophomore Chaz Elder will start at free safety. Elder made six starts in 2013 and had a solid spring. The two will be backed up by Kadetrix Marcus and T.J. Gurley.
Tackle: J.T. Suratt/Gerald Dixon Jr., Abu Lamin, Phillip Dukes
End: Darius English/Gerald Dixon, Cedrick Cooper, Mason Harris
MLB: Kaiwan Lewis, T.J. Holloman
WLB: Skai Moore, Marcquis Roberts
Spur: Sharrod Golightly, Jordan Diggs
CB: Sidney Rhodes/Rico McWilliams, Jamari Smith, Ali Groves
Safety: Brison Williams/Chaz Elder, Kadetrix Marcus, T.J. Gurley
ICYMI: Here is Pearson Fowler’s preview of the offensive depth chart.