Josh Kendall

Larenz Bryant gets up to speed for starting linebacker spot

South Carolina linebacker Larenz Bryant.
South Carolina linebacker Larenz Bryant. dmclemore@thestate.com

One starting spot on South Carolina’s revamped defense is sewn up with three weeks left before the season opener.

At least that’s what Larenz Bryant believes.

“Absolutely, I will be starting at the Sam this year,” the junior linebacker from Charlotte said, referring to the strongside linebacker position.

That’s bold talk for an established veteran. Even bolder for a junior who hasn’t started a collegiate game.

“Is that what he said?” linebackers coach Kirk Botkin said.

“Well, that’s good,” Botkin said after shaking his head. “I’m glad he has that mentality. (But) we don’t have any undisputed starters.”

Bryant might not have the job yet, but he’s looking like the frontrunner in a competition with newcomers Ernest Hawkins and Sherrod Pittman. The strongside position wasn’t a focal point in South Carolina’s base 4-2-5 defense of the past several years but has returned under first-year co-defensive coordinator Jon Hoke’s 4-3 base alignment.

Bryant, a former four-star recruit, played the spur position the past two seasons.

“It was a shift, but I am 100 percent comfortable now,” he said.

Bryant suffered a liver injury early in spring practice but has been 100 percent healthy since the team’s summer conditioning program, he said.

“He had a good summer,” Botkin said. “He looks 100 percent and full speed. He’s been flying around doing some good things lately.”

The 6-foot, 220-pound Bryant, who has 10 career tackles, believes his speed is what will distinguish him this year.

“I am just fast,” he said, “I am fast to the ball, and I am bringing everything. I want to play as physical as possible. I’m smart. I know what’s coming. I watch a lot of film. I’m a student of the game.”

Bryant is “pretty quick,” Botkin said, but the coach is not willing to concede that he’s the fastest linebacker.

“In today’s football, there’s a lot of green grass you have to cover,” Botkin said. “Speed is critical for every position.”

Confidence, too.

“I waited my turn,” Bryant said. “I am ready to go. I worked my butt off all summer. I am just ready to go now.”

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