"Can I play free safety? I might have to next year."
I addressed the function of this series of posts and the mental instability that inspired it in part one of this series. Read that here.
OK, now that we're all caught up, check out my projected 2013 depth chart and the accompanying analysis after the jump.
Gerald Dixon, Jr. (Rs. So.)
J.T. Surratt (Rs. Jr.)
1) Cedrick Cooper (Rs. So.)
2) Larenz Bryant (Fr.)
1) Sheldon Royster (Rs. So.)
2) Chaz Elder (Rs. Fr.)
Notes: The defensive line should once again hold steady despite losing a key contributor in Devin Taylor. But between Sutton, Green, Dixon, and Darius English, I'm confident that Brad Lawing will find an adequate replacement. To me, the biggest question will be, for the second year in a row, who steps up next to Kelcy Quarles to hold down the interior of the defensive line. Gerald Dixon, J.T. Surratt, and Phillip Dukes seem like the most likely candidates right now, but we should get a clearer picture as the 2012 season wears on.
It's the second level of the defense where things get a bit more dicey. The Gamecocks will lose their top 5 linebackers to graduation as well as free safety/hype man D.J. Swearinger. The highly touted linebacker recruits in the 2013 class will likely have an opportunity to step on the field right away as true freshman. As things stand today, my money would be on Larenz Bryant to come in and get meaningful snaps in 2013 at Will - at least as a backup. I wouldn't rule out Matt Rolin seeing the field in his first year on campus either, especially considering that I'm still not totally convinced that Chaun Gresham actually exists.
Depending on what happens to Akeem Auguste and how Jimmy Legree fares as starting field corner, cornerback could be a position of relative strength for South Carolina in 2013. There's a chance that they'll return both starters and will have several players redshirting in 2012 available to compete for backup spots. Outside of those two and Victor Hampton, who many think we'll come to rely upon as something closely resembling a shutdown corner, the secondary is very difficult to project. With Sheldon Royster's seemingly imminent transfer, the starter at free safety in 2013 will likely be someone who isn't even on the current depth chart.
Part of the difficulty in projecting the depth chart for next year's secondary rests in the kind of defensive backs the Gamecocks typically recruit: big, physical guys who could end up either playing corner or safety. True freshmen Chaz Elder, Chris Moody, and Kyle Fleetwood all fit in this mold. They'll probably be somewhere on the 2013 depth chart, but where exactly they end up will be determined by some combination of need and how their bodies develop during their first year in the program.
Overall, there projects to be far less certainty on the defensive side of the ball for South Carolina, especially when compared to the offense. It seems the 2013 squad will be heavily reliant upon Jadeveon Clowney getting into the backfield before the quarterback has an opportunity to throw the ball. Otherwise, the Gamecocks' defense might be every bit as shaky as the offense is sturdy.