South Carolina’s new defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson raised eyebrows in the spring when he moved All-SEC defensive end Eric Norwood to linebacker.
Some questioned how Norwood would adjust to the shift from a three-point stance to a standing position. Norwood responded by producing an SEC-leading nine sacks and earning a spot on the first team of the Associated Press All-SEC team, which was released Monday.
Norwood handled the move to linebacker so well that now the question is whether the junior from Acworth, Ga., will move on to the NFL following the Outback Bowl.
“My intentions are still on coming back to school and finishing my degree,” Norwood said Monday following a press conference where the Gamecocks officially accepted the Outback bid.
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Norwood said he and four other juniors — tight end Jared Cook and defensive backs Captain Munnerlyn, Darian Stewart and Emanuel Cook — applied for an evaluation from the NFL’s advisory committee last week to see where each might get drafted.
“I’m definitely curious,” Norwood said. “That’s what you play for. It’s a dream.”
Underclassmen have until Jan. 15 to declare for the NFL draft — two weeks after the Gamecocks play Iowa in the Outback Bowl in Tampa, Fla.
USC coaches have received indications some of the Gamecocks’ juniors might leave school. After losing to Clemson, Spurrier questioned the effort level of some of the Gamecocks’ draft prospects.
But Norwood said he and the other juniors who submitted their paperwork last week are focused on Iowa.
“Our mindset’s pretty much the same: Just go out there and get ready for the Outback Bowl,” he said.
Norwood, who made the coaches’ All-SEC first team last year, was the only USC player to make the first team on the Associated Press squad this season. Jared Cook and Emanuel Cook were second-team selections; kicker Ryan Succop and Kenny McKinley, the Gamecocks’ all-time leading receiver who missed three games in September with a hamstring injury, were honorable mentions.
Norwood is tied for the SEC sack lead with Florida defensive end Carlos Dunlap, although the former Fort Dorchester star has played one more game than Norwood — last weekend’s SEC championship game.
The 6-foot-1, 253-pound Norwood is fourth in the conference with 13.5 tackles for loss. His 66 tackles rank second among USC defenders behind Emanuel Cook’s 87.
Johnson used Norwood in a variety of alignments, often putting him back at his old defensive end spot to take advantage of his pass-rushing skills. Norwood said making all-conference in consecutive years at different positions was a distinct honor.
“It’s great,” he said. “I don’t like to brag on myself a lot, but it shows my versatility and shows what kind of player I am.”
Norwood will get another chance to showcase his skills — for fans and NFL scouts alike — on New Year’s Day against Iowa, which features the nation’s second-leading rusher, tailback Shonn Greene.
But Norwood has more immediate plans: He’s eager to see what the coaches’ All-SEC squad looks like when it is released today.
“Hopefully, when the coaches’ team comes out, I can make that one, also,” he said.
Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.