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Gamecock football: Projecting South Carolina's 2015 defensive depth chart

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One of the great things about not being on the football team is that you don't have to do boring things like take it one game at a time. You don't even have to take it one season at a time. No one can make you. Not even your parents. So let's skip 2014 (even though it will probably be a great season filled with many great achievements and trending memes) and try to figure out which players will be responsible for doing South Carolina's tackling, sacking, and intercepting in 2015.

Streeter Lecka
Defensive tackle
DT 52 Phillip Dukes 6'3 323 SR-3L Manning, S.C.
93 Deon Green 6'4 289 JR-1L Windemere, Fla.
90 Taylor Stallworth 6'2 293 FR-RS Mobile, Ala.
DT 92 Gerald Dixon, Jr. 6'3 323 SR-3L Rock Hill, S.C.
99 Abu Lamin 6'4 302 JR-1L Fayetteville, N.C.
94 Kelsey Griffin 6'2 310 JR-2L Buford, Ga.

Despite the loss of senior J.T. Surratt, South Carolina will once again return a deep and talented group at defensive tackle. Even if you dare to look as far ahead as 2016, the prospects for the Gamecocks' interior defensive line look no less bright, if not brighter.

It's possible that either or both of Lamin and Griffin, former four-star prospects, could prove themselves worthy of a starting role next year. But, for now, I gave the edge to Dukes and Dixon, Jr. based on experience. The new face is Taylor Stallworth, the Gamecocks' lone defensive tackle signee in 2014. South Carolina has yet to pick up a commitment from a defensive tackle in the 2015 cycle.

Defensive end
DE Gerald Dixon 6'2 274 SR-2L Rock Hill, S.C.
Marquavius Lewis 6'4 271 JR-TR Greenwood, S.C.
David Johnson 6'1 275 SO-1L Lithonia, Ga.
DE Darius English 6'6 241 JR-2L Powder Springs, Ga.
Shameik Blackshear 6'5 240 FR-HS Bluffton, S.C.
Arden Key 6'5 200 FR-HS Atlanta, Ga.

Rarely do you recruit a position so well as to make it not totally inconceivable that multiple signees will have a realistic shot at unseating returning starters, but that's exactly the situation in which South Carolina finds itself entering 2015. Gerald Dixon and Darius English will have plenty of opportunity in 2014 to firmly ensconce themselves as the Gamecocks' starting defensive ends, but the talent the Gamecocks are expecting to arrive on National Signing Day 2015 is staggering.

Marquavius Lewis is a monster who is physically ready to come in from Hutchinson Community College and compete for playing time. Not that he needs much of a leg up, but Lewis' intention to enroll early at South Carolina will give him an extra semester of practice to get acclimated to the Gamecocks' defense. Blackshear is every bit as physically gifted at Lewis but not nearly as refined a talent. It wouldn't be a surprise if he pushed for more and more playing time as the season wears on, but even Jadeveon Clowney had to be eased into the defense as a true freshman. Though Key is reputed to weigh closer to 220 pounds now, it's unlikely that he'll be physically mature enough to push the likes of Lewis, English, Dixon, and Blackshear.

The sleeper here is David Johnson, who is up to 275 pounds and impressing coaches in fall practice. Not pictured are Mason Harris and Cedrick Cooper. Faithful servants though they have been, it's hard to see Harris and Cooper sticking around for a fifth year on scholarship in the face of so much incoming talent.

Linebackers
MLB Kaiwan Lewis 6'0 228 SR-3L Mays Landing, N.J.
T.J. Holloman 6'2 234 JR-2L Stone Mountain, Ga.
Davon Durant 6'2 240 JR-TR Greenwood, S.C.
WLB Skai Moore 6'2 213 JR-2L Cooper City, Fla.
Bryson Allen-Williams
6'1 231 SO-1L Ellenwood, Ga.
Jonathan Walton 6'0 228 JR-2L Daphne, Ala.
SPR Jordan Diggs 6'0 217 JR-2L Fort Myers, Fla.
Larenz Bryant 6'0 220 JR-2L Charlotte, N.C.

The only departure from the linebacking corps, perhaps the best unit in the entire defense, will be graduated senior Sharrod Golightly. Jordan Diggs should step into Golightly's shoes without missing a beat. Kaiwan Lews will be draft-eligible following the 2014 season, but seems an unlikely candidate to forego his final year of eligibility. At this point next year, Skai Moore might be regarded as the best player returning to the Gamecocks' defense. Coming off a true freshman season in which he led South Carolina in tackles and interceptions, there's a lot of buzz surrounding Moore entering 2014.

On any other team, Davon Durant would be a sure bet to come in from Butler Community College and compete for immediate playing time. South Carolina's incumbent starters will prove more difficult to unseat, but backups such as Marcquis Roberts and TJ Holloman are not quite so impressive as Moore and Lewis. It's entirely possible that Durant will get significant snaps in relief of Kaiwan Lewis and enter 2016 as the heir apparent at middle linebacker.

Defensive backfield
CB Al Harris, Jr. 5'11 162 SO-1L Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
Wesley Green 5'0 176 SO-1L Lithonia, Ga.
Jamari Smith 5'10 197 JR-2L Jacksonville, Fla.
SS T.J. Gurley 5'10 194 SR-2L Cairo, Ga.
Chris Moody 6'1 210 JR-2L McDonough, Ga.
Octavis Johnson 6'1 181 FR-HS Homerville, Ga.
FS Chaz Elder 6'2 195 JR-1L Union City, Ga.
Jasper Sasser 6'0 203 SO-1L Jacksonville, Fla.
D.J. Smith 5'11 189 SO-1L Marietta, Ga.
CB Chris Lammons 5'10 172 SO-1L Sunrise, Fla.
Rico McWilliams 5'11 184 JR-2L Hampton, Ga.
Ali Groves 5'10 187 SO-1L Stone Mountain, Ga.

Even with Brison Williams and J.J. Marcus graduating, the safety positions will remain mostly stable. Some combination of Chaz Elder, T.J. Gurley, and Chris Moody ought to prove adequate occupants of the strong and free safety positions.

Cornerback, on the other hand, is still something of a mad scramble, mostly because so much is uncertain even as we enter the 2014 season. 15 games from now (fingers crossed), the Gamecocks will have a much better idea of who their best cornerbacks are and there should be a pretty smooth transition from 2014 to 2015.

***

If South Carolina's defense takes a step back in 2014, it's almost certain to rebound in 2015. The combination of returning talent and incoming prospects will make this a fearsome bunch, possibly the best defense the Gamecocks have fielded since 2011. The big question will be whether this unit is strong enough to carry a young offense on its shoulders during the early portion of the schedule.