USC Gamecocks Football

USC football staff asks a lot from versatile TJ Holloman

The television feed is shooting from behind South Carolina’s defense when linebacker T.J. Holloman starts backpedaling before the snap.

This isn’t so surprising. It’s third-and-9 against Vanderbilt. It’s reasonable a defense will give some cushion and recover.

Only when the broadcast switches to the conventional angle from the press box, Holloman is 12 yards deep and still going, 17 or 18 deep before the camera tightens its frame before the snap.

“We’ve practiced that a lot, and (Will Muschamp) called it,” Holloman said. “I was just like, ‘Oh wow, let’s do it.’ 

This is not normally where Holloman, or any inside linebacker ends up. In the past, middle linebackers, his primary spot, stuck their nose into piles, absorbed hits from fullbacks and corralled inside running games.

But the fifth-year senior can do far more, and the staff took advantage of that in USC’s first game.

He came in listed in the two deep at all three linebacker spots. Primarily a middle linebacker last season, he stayed there when the team played five defensive backs. When Vanderbilt deployed some of its heavier packages, Jonathan Walton came in at the middle spot, and Holloman shifted out to the strong side.

That meant the 6-foot-2, 230-pound senior found himself sometimes lining up over a tight end looking like an edge rusher, going out wide to cover a receiver in space, or even dropping into deep middle coverage to let the Gamecocks run a safety into the box and blitz.

In the early going of installing the defense, the staff wasn’t using Holloman in that many situations, but something changed.

“We did it during the summer,” Holloman said. “When Larenz (Bryant) went down, Larenz played a lot of Sam, so once he went down, I just stepped in, learned the Sam, and Chris Moody also learned the Sam. So we’ve both been playing the Sam.”

It probably says something that Holloman is being asked to do similar things as a former safety.

His versatility is not only based in his skillset, but in another attribute that allows him to quickly bounce from spot to spot in the defense.

“T.J. is really smart,” Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp said. “It’s fun to coach really smart guys because they can do a lot of different things, you can talk them through it, you can show them on the board.”

In 2015, the then-coaching staff shifted middle linebacker Skai Moore to the outside in part to get Holloman’s coverage skills onto the field. They even sometimes asked him to match wide receivers in zone coverage, which at times didn’t go well, but does speak to the baseline abilities.

He won’t be spending too much time in the deep middle of the field, but it’s likely the staff will find more spots to use him, partially because of the versatility and partially because of an adaptability that speaks to far more.

“Everybody learns differently,” Muschamp said. “I was a rep guy. I had to rep it. I had to actually go through and rep it. I couldn’t really visualize it, sometimes, on the board and understand it. T.J. is a guy that learns, has a high aptitude to learn extremely well on the board, in the film room, in rep situations. He can play multiple spots without really having to rep the situation. That’s going to help his career.”