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March 23, 2010

Linebacker Wilson sizes up move to new spot

Shaq Wilson led South Carolina in tackles last year, but his biggest fan says he needs to do more.

Shaq Wilson led South Carolina in tackles last year, but his biggest fan says he needs to do more.

"Even my mom is like, 'You gotta force more turnovers this year, you've gotta get the ball out,' " Wilson said, smiling. "Like I did in high school.' "

Of course, it's a bit harder recording sacks, interceptions and tackles behind the defensive line when you're a 5-foot-10 linebacker in the SEC.

The big plays weren't expected of Wilson as a sophomore middle linebacker playing beside All-American Eric Norwood. Wilson still did his job pretty well, leading the team with 85 tackles, 47 of them solo.

But now Norwood is gone, and Wilson shifts over to his position at the weakside (or Will) spot, where he will have to make more plays in open space.

The move is necessitated by the return from injury of Rodney Paulk, who started last season at the middle (or Mike) spot. The 6-foot tall Paulk thinks Wilson will do just fine after playing the middle last year.

"(At) the Mike, there's a lot more for you to call plays," Paulk said. "He knows the plays, he knows the calls and he knows both positions. So when he's on the field, he knows what the Will is doing, and he knows what the Mike is doing. He's versatile."

Wilson also was a reserve at the Will position as a freshman and began last season there, so his knowledge of the defense isn't a question. Neither is his ability to wrap up a ball-carrier.

He spent the offseason trying to bulk up, and he said he is up to 226 pounds after being listed at 210 last year and 194 as a freshman. He also said his body fat has gone down, and he has no worries about his speed being hurt by the added weight.

The one thing Wilson didn't do was get taller. The team's spring media guide even refers to him as an "undersized linebacker who just makes plays."

But most of those plays are tackles after the other team has gained yards. Last year Wilson had 3.5 tackles for losses for a total of six yards. (His two TFLs as a freshman totaled 13 yards.)

His lone career sack came in the Outback Bowl after his freshman season. He has two career interceptions, including one last year against eventual national champion Alabama.

By comparison, Norwood had 11.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks and two interceptions. Playing the Will next to Jasper Brinkley two years ago, Norwood had 13 tackles for loss and nine sacks.

But few are expecting Wilson to live up to that. Coaches and teammates have told Wilson to be his own man and pointed out that the two are different types of players. Norwood was more of a pass-rusher and open space play-maker, while Wilson works inside the tackles and is trying to branch out a bit.

"That's a great challenge for me," Wilson said. "It's only going to make me better, trying to be like Eric Norwood."

Paulk thinks Wilson need only worry about himself.

"I haven't quite heard (the Norwood comparisons) yet," Paulk said. "Shaq's his own player, we're all our own player. You can't really compare somebody to another player because he does what he does best, and he does what he does best. But he came in here last year and tremendously helped us, so I believe he's going to do it again this year."

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