What to Watch for During Spring Practice: Linebackers

Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

After facing numerous questions entering the 2013 season, the linebacker position has been solidified entering 2014 spring practice.

When the 2013 season began, the South Carolina linebacker position was largely considered an unknown. Five seniors were lost to graduation, and many young players would have to be counted on to replace veteran production. After suffering through some ups and downs last season, the young group of linebackers really came on strong, finishing with a flurry in the Capital One Bowl versus Wisconsin. With spring practice having begun, the linebacker position could arguably be the strongest position on the defense.

Entering spring talented sophomore Skai Moore is listed as the starting WILL linebacker. As a true freshman in 2013, Moore paced the defense in both tackles and interceptions, and will look to take on a leadership role beginning in spring practice and moving forward into the summer and 2014 season. Moore showed excellent athleticism and versatility as a true freshman while leading the team with 56 tackles. He also showed exceptional coverage ability, as he hauled in 4 interceptions. Moore is currently listed at 6'2 210 pounds, and has the potential to be an All-SEC caliber player in 2014. Behind Moore on the spring depth chart is 6'0 237 pound sophomore Jonathan Walton. After playing mostly special teams in 2013, this spring will be very important in Walton's development. He will get plenty of reps in practice to give him a better feel for the defensive scheme. Walton will be counted on to provide depth behind Moore in 2014, and the defensive coaches really like his size and ability.

The MIKE linebacker position will once again be manned by junior Kaiwan Lewis and sophomore T.J. Holloman. Currently, Lewis has the edge to start once the 2014 season begins, but will be limited this spring after having minor left knee surgery in the offseason. With Lewis not able to take as many reps, Holloman will have the opportunity to further develop in the middle. At 6'2 233 pounds, Holloman has both the size and mental aptitude to overtake Lewis as the starter. Both Lewis and Holloman will play a significant role this season and it wouldn't be surprising to see them split snaps evenly. Former starter at WILL Marcquis Roberts was also moved to MIKE and is listed third on the depth chart. This move can be attributed to the emergence of Skai Moore at WILL combined with the need to create additional versatility at linebacker. Kirk Botkin and Lorenzo Ward consider the MIKE and WILL positions interchangeable and prefer players that can play both.

The SPUR linebacker position returns all of its depth from the 2013 season. Fifth-year senior Sharrod Golightly won the starting nod last offseason and surprisingly developed into one of the more consistent performers on defense. Golightly earned All-SEC second team honors and has 12 careers starts under his belt. After having minor left knee surgery this offseason, the Decatur, GA native will be limited in spring, allowing Jordan Diggs and Larenz Bryant to battle it out for the backup job. Both Diggs and Bryant are former four-star recruits and each will be counted on to take the next step this spring. Look out for Bryant at the SPUR, as the sophomore has both the size and speed necessary to play the position effectively. He will be given every opportunity to see the field after being moved over from WILL. Diggs came on strong towards the end of 2013 and played well against Clemson and Wisconsin. This should be an intense battle. Special teams contributor Kyle Fleetwood will also provide depth at the position, but the former safety is currently buried in the logjam.

Expect the Gamecock linebackers to make a lot of plays in 2014. This spring will provide a chance for younger players to develop depth behind the starters, and with the questions on the defensive line and perimeter, the linebackers will be expected to lead.

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