Sherrod Greene was in position to fall out of the mix. In some ways, the South Carolina linebacker already had.
His first season as a starter, 2018, had not gone well and he appeared to struggle at points. Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp said multiple times that consistency was an issue. Then came a concussion in August camp.
When all was said and done, senior T.J. Brunson was moved over into Greene’s weakside spot, and second-year linebacker Ernest Jones was inserted into the starting lineup. Greene, a junior who once claimed an offer from Alabama and had to step into the position vacated by Skai Moore, was now just a reserve.
Only then, he played his way back into the mix.
After averaging around 10 snaps a game in USC’s first three contests, he got to 25 against Missouri and 35 against Kentucky. It was a sight his teammates enjoyed seeing.
“He’s gotten so much more confident in his play and, you know, it’s always good to have all the ‘backers out there because of our relationship on and off the field,” Brunson said. “Just seeing him go out there, play fast, play physical and just play how he knows how to play, watch him play his game, it was cool to see.”
Muschamp explained Greene started playing more after showing something against Missouri. Simply put, he was out-playing the fifth defensive back USC was using.
“I knew Sherrod Greene and I knew the way he played, the way Jahmar Brown has come on,” Muschamp said. “It’s clear. It all goes back to get your best 11 on the field.”
It meant Muschamp made a break from his usual schematic doctrines. Most coaches match nickel personnel with three receivers. Against Kentucky, he often had safeties handle UK’s slot receivers when they weren’t going with a pair of tight ends, leaving Greene out on the field.
It limited some of what could be done disguise-wise on the back end, but it also allowed for a stouter, heavier group inside the box.
Greene came to USC as a thumper in the run game at 230 pounds, with room to grow in pass coverage. He was asked to step in at the coverage-heavy weakside spot last season. While he put up some numbers, he never seemed to make the full range of plays the staff wanted.
He moved to the strongside spot this season, sharing that role with freshman Jahmar Brown, and has 13 tackles and a pair of QB hurries.
It remains to be seen if the three-linebacker look can hold up against some of the better offenses USC will face, but after the bye, Georgia will bring plenty of power looks that could require more size. That could have Greene getting the call again.
His bounce back and return are a reminder of how this linebacker group is still striving for consistency working to put issues from last year behind them.
“We’ve all grown,” Jones said. “As a group, we’ve come closer with each other. We know last year we kind of dropped the ball, but this year, we’ve all put in the work to being able to stop the run, being that presence, being those three linebackers that are able to stop the run.”
Who: South Carolina at Georgia
When: noon Saturday, Oct. 12
Line: Georgia by 24.5