Josh Kendall

South Carolina linebacker production statistics are alarming

Ideally, linebackers should play between 50 and 60 snaps during a college football game. South Carolina junior T.J. Brunson played 83 against Florida last week.

“We have been disappointed with the overall production (of the young linebackers), but I think Damani (Staley) has played well at times,” Gamecocks head coach Will Muschamp said. “Rosendo Louis and Ernest Jones both are guys we need to step up and give us more confidence to play them. They are certainly capable of doing that.”

Their inability to do that nine games into the season has hamstrung a South Carolina defense that knew it had depth issues on defense entering the season. The Gamecocks (5-4) play Chattanooga on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in Williams-Brice Stadium.

Louis was considered one of the jewels of the Gamecocks last signing class. The Deerfield Beach, Fla., native was considered one of the nation’s top 25 middle linebacker prospects and South Carolina talked him out of a verbal commitment to Florida State to come play for the Gamecocks. Louis enrolled early and participated in spring practice and was made Brunson’s understudy immediately.

So far, he’s played in four games and totaled seven tackles. Jones, a fellow true freshman, has played in one game and has one tackle. Senior reserve Eldridge Thompson has been limited to three games by a shoulder injury. Junior Daniel Fennell, and Staley, a sophomore who is the son of former South Carolina star Duce Staley, are the only backup linebackers to offer much help at all this season. Fennell has 24 stops, and Staley has 13 tackles. Staley backs up Sherrod Greene at the weakside linebacker spot. Getting a young player ready to handle the middle linebacker role that Brunson plays is tougher, Muschamp said.

“It’s hard at that position,” he said. “There is a lot going in the run game. You’re tied into the pass game as well. There is a lot of mental gymnastics going on at that position. You have to do a lot of things in our defense in the Mike position. We have tried to limit that with (the freshmen) in there.”

The Gamecocks have played seven linebackers this year, but Brunson and Greene are doing almost all the heavy lifting. Brunson leads the team with 80 tackles, and Greene is third with 52. The other seven USC linebackers have a combined 50 tackles this season.

Playing every snap against the Gators “was not too bad,” Brunson said, but Muschamp pointed out that his entire defense wore down in the fourth quarter of that game.

“I’m sure it did,” Brunson admitted. “Running to the ball kind of conditions your body to play every snap so I didn’t notice too bad.”