Top Performer: Marque Hall (6-3/290) Wingate, NC (Forest Hills)
By anyone's account, defensive tackle Marque Hall underachieved in 2005, averaging about one tackle per game on the year. That's the bad news. The good news is Hall performed much better this spring, and based on his play, appears set to fulfill his big-time potential in 2006. If USC lined up to play its season opener tomorrow, Hall's running mate inside would be Nathan Pepper, who had a very solid spring himself. He's now over 280 pounds, getting him closer to the weight at which he needs to be to hold his own inside. He has good feet, is very active, and plays with effort and intensity. It's imperative for Stanley Doughty to have a very productive off-season and that he reports to fall camp in better shape. If so, he has the potential to have a very good year in 2006. If not, he'll likely find himself in new defensive line coach Brad Lawing's doghouse. Matt Raysor is another player with a nice upside that must improve his conditioning. He was up and down this spring, but showed flashes of what he's capable of. The final piece of the puzzle on the interior is Joel Reaves, a junior college transfer who enrolled in January. He's a bit undersized, but very coachable. He'll provide decent depth for the Gamecocks in 2006.
Likely depth chart this fall: Hall/Raysor, Pepper/Doughty
* 2006 signee Terrence Campbell is up to 265 pounds, and all signs currently point to him moving inside to tackle. * 2006 signee Kenrick Ellis will get a long look once fall camp begins, assuming he qualifies and reports in adequate shape.
Heading into spring practice, defensive end was a big question mark for the Gamecocks, and things haven't changed much with the drills now completed. Jordin Lindsey had a solid spring, and that probably best describes him as a player. He's solid, but will likely never be an all-SEC type performer for USC. Dakota Walker is still a bit undersized, and hasn't yet taken to his role as a pass rushing specialist at weak side end. He's probably better suited to play linebacker at his current weight, something he did at times this spring when USC switched to an odd front. Ryan Brown made the transition from middle linebacker to defensive end, something Orus Lambert was able to do successfully in 2005. It took a few practices for Brown to reach a comfort level with the position, and his performance was good enough to earn him a starting spot following the spring game. Redshirt freshman Shea McKeen overcame off-the-field troubles this spring to perform adequately when called upon. He may have the best upside of all the defensive ends currently on the team, but still has a ways to go to reach his potential. Lemuel Jeanpierre is another young player just scratching the surface of his ability, and he will be called upon to see significant action in 2006. Redshirt freshman Kerry Bonds split time between linebacker and defensive end during spring drills, and will likely remain at end this season.
Likely depth chart this fall: Lindsey/McKeen, Brown/Walker
* 2006 signee Eric Norwood could begin his career at defensive end.
Top Performer:Jasper Brinkley (6-2/245) Milledgeville, GA (Georgia Military)
Jasper Brinkley, a JUCO transfer from Georgia Military, enrolled at USC in January, and it didn't take him long to catch the coaches' eyes. He performed very well in the winter conditioning program, and began working at first-team MLB almost immediately once spring practice began. He will be backed up by Curtis Rice, who is now over 240 pounds. Marvin Sapp, although a bit undersized for a SAM linebacker, had a very nice spring in his own right. He's very active and always seems to be around the ball. He's backed up by another player fighting size issues in Yvan Banag, but Banag had his moments this spring as well. Youth has been served at the WILL LB spot, with Gerrod Sinclair and Brent Davis both working with the first team quite a bit this spring. They are more athletic than the players they replaced, but will need to work hard to make sure their inexperience isn't a hindrance in 2006. Cody Wells will also see his share of snaps on the weak side.
* Look for Casper Brinkley to make a significant impact at SAM LB if he can learn the defensive system quickly enough in fall camp. * 2006 signees Vandaral Shackleford and Rodney Paulk would both like to earn playing time as true freshmen.
Cornerback Fred Bennett is the "grandfather" of the defense, having logged by far the most career snaps of any returning player. He didn't have a perfect spring by any means, but that's the nature of the cornerback position. He will need to not only be a leader for the inexperienced secondary, but for the entire Gamecock defense. He will be flanked on the opposite side by Carlos Thomas, who will now play strictly on defense, after seeing action on both sides of the ball as a true freshman in 2005. He's the best pure cover guy on the team, but he needs to improve as a tackler. He also must stay focused in the classroom the rest of the spring and summer to ensure his eligibility in 2006. The nickel back will likely be redshirt sophomore Stoney Woodson, who is still trying to find his comfort level at the position. Redshirt freshman Jeremy Ware and walk-on Aubrey McKay will fight it out for the fourth cornerback spot. The safety position remains unsettled. The most consistent performer this spring was Chris Hampton. Brandon Isaac missed all of the contact drills while recovering from off-season shoulder surgery, but will be a starter in the season opener. Ty Erving will be Hampton's backup, with the other backup spot still up for grabs. Damien Wright is making the transition from linebacker to safety, and Mychal Belcher may not be quite ready physically to make an impact this season.
* 2006 signee Darian Stewart has a golden opportunity to make a big impact at safety if he makes a speedy adjustment to the college level. * 2006 signees Chris Hail and Captain Munnerlyn will also get a look at defensive upon arriving this summer.
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