A review and recap of how South Carolina's linebackers and spurs fared this spring (the fifth in a series of positional reviews of the Gamecocks):
Kaiwain Lewis, Kelvin Rainey, Marcquis Roberts
... Most improved linebackers: Kaiwan Lewis
... Most improved safeties: Sharrod Golightly/Jordan Diggs
... Harold White GPA-Defense: T.J. Holloman
... Big Plays – Spring Practice – Defense: Kelvin Rainey
Projected depth chart
1. Kaiwan Lewis
2. T.J. Holloman
1. Cedrick Cooper
2. Marcquis Roberts - OR - David Johnson - OR - Kelvin Rainey
1. Jordan Diggs
2. Sharrod Golightly
What we learned
1. Golightly the top spur - for now
Sharrod Golightly, a junior, is the favorite to stay in the top spot on the depth chart, but Jordan Diggs could cut into his playing time. Neither player weighs more than 200 pounds, meaning they will play the position differently than 240-pound DeVonte Holloman did last year. Golightly and Diggs won’t be as close to the line of scrimmage, meaning pass coverage skills will be paramount in this battle.
2. Each linebacker had impressive moments
USC coaches praised how the linebackers performed this spring with the team replacing all four of its key contributors from last year. Kaiwain Lewis is the favorite to win the starting middle linebacker job. He has been lauded this spring by coach Kirk Botkin for his intelligence and willingness to be a vocal leader. Converted tight end Kelvin Rainey made several eye-catching interceptions early in spring practice. T.J. Holloman also was praised for his intellect and his ability to set the defensive fronts for the younger players. Holloman could play either linebacker spot. Marcquis Roberts was praised throughout the spring for his physical style.
Questions moving forward
1. OK, so what about the linebackers?
South Carolina's linebacker situation was one of the most intriguing defensive position battles of the spring. That will be the case this summer as well. The number of players at the position will more than double by the time August gets here. Cedrick Cooper will return from a knee injury, and South Carolina's four linebacker signees will be on campus. In all, at least nine players will be competing to be part of the Gamecocks' four-man rotation. Those who don't make the two-deep are still candidates to play on special teams.
2. Are there any signees who could make an impact?
Yes, USC signed four linebackers, and each recruit was sold on the idea that immediate playing time was a real possibility: David Johnson of Lithonia, Ga.; Larenz Bryant of Charlotte; Skai Moore of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; and Jonathan Walton of Daphne, Ala. Bryant was one of the highest-rated members of the 2013 class, but Johnson is the heaviest of the bunch. USC listed him at 268 pounds when he signed, though he said he's closer to 250. At least one or two of the newcomers could crack the rotation or find immediate playing time on kickoff or punt coverage.
They said it
Lorenzo Ward: "Our biggest question marking going into the spring was linebackers, and we still have questions marks at linebacker. I think Marcquis Roberts has had a really good spring. I think he'll have an opportunity to help us. We'll get Cedrick Cooper back. Kelvin Rainey ran around and made some plays. I feel like we made some progress but we still have a ways to go. The good thing about linebackers, if they're athletic enough and they can run, if they can get lined up, I can kind of dictate where they go."
Kaiwan Lewis: “When I am coming, I’m going to hit you. I bring that to the game. Come the fall, hopefully, I will be the guy with the job, but I am just coming out here to get better.”
T.J. Holloman: “Last summer I had no idea what to do. I was just out there running around and trying to make plays. Now that you understand what to do, you can play even faster. The fact that I know how to play and what I’m supposed to do is really helping me out.”
Kirk Botkin on Holloman: “T.J. Holloman is doing a good job. He’s very smart, a very intellectual kid. He helps line up the defense.”
Diggs: "It will be a lot different. Devonte was very physical and he had a big body. He could get in and mix it up with those guys, whereas me and Sharrod have to use our hands and use our speed to our advantage."
Diggs: "I know what the spur is supposed to do. I know where my help is, whereas last year I was just playing my assignment and not really knowing what the other guys were doing. I didn't know what what the safeties were doing on the back end and what the corners were doing. I'm more confident in myself, and that goes hand in hand with me knowing the system more."
Sharrod Golightly: "The hardest part is splitting reps. Everybody wants to make a play. That's a good problem between the both of us and the whole linebacker corps. With the competition between all six of us, it is good."
Botkin on the spurs: "[Golightly] is more mature and has more experience and understands where his help is just a little bit more, but I'm telling you, it's going to be one heck of a race during two a days to see who has the better summer workouts. Both those kids are hard workers."