Josh Kendall

Gamecocks’ defensive starters emerging as NC State game approaches

There has been more preseason movement on South Carolina’s defensive depth than on its offensive counterpart, but that doesn’t mean there has been a lot of shifting around. Most of the faces are still in the same places they were when fall camp began, but with less than two weeks remaining until the season-opener against N.C. State, it’s a good time to check in anyway.

One word of caution on the traditional depth chart: the Gamecocks likely will deploy their resources in multiple ways this year depending on opponent and plan, so it could be that five defensive backs start one game with two linebackers and the next week it’s four and three. Or it may be that Bryson Allen-Williams opens one week as a defensive lineman and the next as a linebacker. For our purposes here, we will go with a traditional 4-3 alignment.

With that in mind, here’s the general framework of how we expect the starting lineup to look on Sept. 2.

Defensive end: Dante Sawyer and D.J. Wonnum. Sawyer is a senior and one of the three defensive linemen head coach Will Muschamp singled out at SEC Media Days as the secret to the DL’s success. Wonnum is expected to be the top pass rusher on the team this fall.

Defensive tackle: Taylor Stallworth and Ulric Jones. Stallworth has had a very good camp and appears ready to break out in the final year of what has been injury-hampered, Muschamp said. Jones is the biggest of the DL starters (312 pounds) and needs to play that way.

Linebacker: Bryson Allen-Williams, T.J. Brunson and Skai Moore. The Gamecocks have one of the besting starting trios in the SEC at this position. The problem is there is not a single other player on the roster with a collegiate snap at the position. Freshman Sherrod Greene and junior college transfer Eldridge Thompson have emerged as the top backups.

Cornerback: Jamarcus King and Rashad Fenton. King has gone from 175 pounds to 190 pounds and has increased his hand strength. Both of which will help him be more effective this year. Fenton, a junior from Miami, is the most talented of the secondary’s veterans but needs a breakout year.

Safety: Chris Lammons and D.J. Smith. Lammons is the most versatile member of the secondary and could start at cornerback or nickel back as well. Smith is South Carolina’s leading returning tackler with 80 stops in 2016. (As an aside, it looked during Monday night’s practice that freshman Jamyest Williams was working as the starting nickel back.)

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