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South Carolina’s linebackers hold key to successful pass rush

The South Carolina defense will be solid again, but can be even better with an established pass rush, especially from their linebacker corps.

AP Photo, Richard Shiro

It seems like yesterday when Jadeveon Clowney used to terrorize SEC backfields and quarterbacks. Clowney’s play made the Gamecocks pass rush as formidable as any team in the conference let alone the nation. Four years later, the pass rush in Columbia has not been the same since.

Last season, South Carolina as a team had just 20 sacks that ranked 94th in the country and tied for 11th in the SEC. The lack of pass rush led to many issues on the defensive side that was stout for the most part last season. There is hope that this season’s front seven could alleviate the issues of previous season.

The majority of the new players coming into the program this season are defensive lineman. In fact, of the 10 players, defensive lineman are seven of them. This provides the defensive line much needed added depth. However, to have the most success in the pass rush, Carolina needs to utilize their linebackers

While the four men up front look to reload with younger talent, the strength of the defense lies in the linebacker corps. The linebackers last season kept the Gamecocks in many of the games they lost and will be relied on heavy again to carry the defense. Unfortunately, the group took a big hit in the offseason when Skai Moore was lost for the season with a herniated disc in his neck.

With Moore’s absence, the Gamecocks will need a new force to step up in his absence. Fortunately for the Gamecocks, the linebackers have the most depth out of any unit on the defense. Most eyes have been turning to T.J. Holloman to lead the group for the 2016 season. Holloman had 63 tackles in 2015 and looks to have a breakout season as being one of the most intelligent players on the roster.

To have the success they want out of the linebackers, the Gamecocks need more than just Holloman to make an impact with Moore out. Jonathan Walton and Bryson Allen-Williams, who have veteran experience to compliment Holloman, will mold the rest of the linebacker corps . That is the advantage of being extremely deep at one position. Allen-Williams does not have the numbers that Gamecocks fans wanted when he came to Columbia, but his performance will also determine how successful this linebacker group will be this season.

The uniqueness of South Carolina’s defense is that they utilize a Buck, a hybrid linebacker-defensive end whose primary strength is to be a pass-rushing specialist. With the emphasis on pass rush, using this Buck position could be another way to restore the relentless pass rush when needed. South Carolina used Daniel Fennell, Darius English and Boosie Whitlow in the Buck spot in the spring for an audition role.

Much like the team in general, there is hope that the Gamecocks pass rush can have its best and most productive season since Clowney’s last season at South Carolina in 2012. They have the depth and the talent to build a foundation that can work to make it a nightmare for teams like it used to be. Ultimately, the Gamecocks need to use their linebackers as much as possible in their pass rush. It is the deepest position and most importantly, the most reliable position.