Bryson Allen-Williams could play weakside linebacker or strongside linebacker this season.
As long as he doesn’t have to play defensive end again. South Carolina’s 6-foot-1, 233-pound sophomore came in with plenty of fanfare last year and started the season as an outside linebacker in the brand new 3-4 formation. When that formation was scrapped and the Gamecocks’ defensive line issues became evident, Allen-Williams was pressed into service at defensive end, where he was often overwhelmed by much larger offensive tackles despite playing at close to 250 pounds by the end of the season.
“It was pretty tough,” he acknowledged.
South Carolina is installing a base 4-3 defensive alignment this year, and Allen-Williams is back at home at linebacker. Although, which outside linebacker spot he will play isn’t set in stone yet.
“The Will (weakside) and the Sam (strongside), those positions are very interchangeable,” first-year co-defensive coordinator Jon Hoke said. “Not so much with the Mike (middle), but the two outside guys, most guys can play both.”
Allen-Williams spent most of the first week of practice backing up Jonathan Walton on the weakside and got some extra repetitions Friday as Walton sat out with a sprained knee.
“We all have to learn both because the more you know, the more you’re going to play,” he said. “I am really comfortable playing wherever they put me.”
Being 20 pounds lighter has made Allen-Williams feel more like his former self, he said, the player he was when he was ranked a four-star prospect and recruited heavily by Georgia and Alabama at Cedar Grove High School in Ellenwood, Ga., two years ago.
“Coach Hoke teaches speed,” Allen-Williams said. “He wants all his guys fast, so I had to lose a little weight.”
He will try to take some of the lessons he learned last year on the defensive line and transfer them to the linebacker position this year, he said. His best game came in the 10th game of the regular season, when he had 2.5 tackles-for-loss and a forced fumble while playing defensive end against Florida.
“I feel like I’m better at taking on offensive linemen now,” he said. “It’s easier to read the run because I was down there for so long. I am thankful for the experience and was thankful to be playing last year.”
Allen-Williams, who earned the team’s Everyday Attitude award this spring, made strides during the summer, finished his freshman season with 27 tackles, five quarterback hurries and half a sack. He made strides through the spring and summer in Hoke’s new system, Hoke said.
“He’s shown improvement, but we still have a long way to go,” the coach said. “He’s making progress.”