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Every defensive position group for South Carolina in three words

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Preseason expectations and explanations for every group on defense for the Gamecocks.

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at South Carolina Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Imagine this: you know absolutely nothing about the football team at the University of South Carolina. This is going to be hard for most of our fans, considering they know absolutely everything about Carolina football, at least the. Anyhow, try to at least facilitate the thought that you understand football - while knowing nothing about USC’s football team.

While imagining this, I’m going to explain each defensive position group for the upcoming season in three simple words. I know it sounds crazy, but please bear with me. There are a lot of questions around each position group on defense, and at the same time there is a lot of stability in a few of them.

I’m going to go in the order of worst to best. That isn't to say that this particular group isn't good as another, it may have a lot or question marks or it’s the least producing. Let’s get this train started.

P.S. I stole this idea from Colin Cowherd. I also counted special teams as defense.

NCAA Football: Missouri at South Carolina Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Special Teams: Fry, Williams & Kelly

Special teams are always the most scrutinized and unappreciated groups on a football team, other than offensive line. Replacing starters at the most important positions on special teams is going to be very difficult and a process for Muschamp and crew.

The place kicker for Carolina, Elliott Fry, graduated as USC’s all time leading scorer and one of the biggest fan favorites ever. Replacing this particular young man is going to be extremely difficult for the Gamecocks. His current replacement, Alex Wozniak, has big shoes to fill, and hopefully we will be able to rely on him.

Sean Kelly wasn't as nearly as known as Fry, but he was a very good punter for the Gameocks for two years. Kelly did have a pretty great throw to Hayden Hurst against A&M on a 4th & 7 that went for 36 yards. Averaging 44.4 & 42.5 yards in 2015 & 2016, Sean was always a pretty good punt man. Michael Almond seems to be lined up for the starting job for this year, and let’s pray for the best.

I long snapped for my high school football team, so long snappers will always have a special place in my heart. Drew Williams was the deep snapper his first two years, and added field goal snapping duties in 2015. Being named a fourth team all-American by Phil Steele, its obvious Drew was very good at his job. With only three long snappers on USC’s official roster, hopefully one of them will turn out as reliable as Williams.

A pleasant surprise last year, both of our return games seemed pretty good. Chris Lammons almost returned a punt for a touchdown in the bowl game, and Deebo Samuel took a kickoff for a touchdown against Western Carolina. I think if Deebo and Lammons are the main returners next year, along with AJ Turner, we'll have another good year for the return teams.

NCAA Football: Tennessee at South Carolina Jeff Blake-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive Line: Pass Rush Welcome

Look, Jadeveon Clowney was the single best pass rusher to ever play at the University of South Carolina. Ever since his departure, our pass rush has been close to existent. Darius English was the leader in sacks for us last year with nine. He graduated, so someone is going to have to step up and replace those numbers.

The expected starters on the defensive line come in with a whopping six career sacks combined (Dante Sawyer, 3.5; D.J. Wonnum, 1.5, Taylor Stallworth, 1; Ulric Jones none). The Gamecocks were 12th in the SEC and 97th in the nation in team sacks. That is a number that has absolutely got to improve for Carolina to have an above .500 year.

DJ Wonnum appears to be the leading candidate to replace the production that left with English. Wonnum was an Athlon Freshman Second-Team All-SEC player last year and hopefully he will have a breakout year. Taylor Stallworth and Ulric Jones have never been known for their pass rush, but they are good players when it comes to protecting the inside of our defense. With a combined 1.5 sacks between both of these guys, a good year (3-4 sacks for both of them) is obviously a goal for them. Hopefully, Javon Kinlaw and Kier Thomas will provide more pressure this year from the DT spot.

Dante Sawyer is the other starter at DE this year for the Gamecocks. Dante is one of the guys who has underperformed, in my opinion, since coming to USC - hopefully that will change this year. After transferring from a JUCO powerhouse in East Mississippi C.C., 3.5 sacks in two years isn't a whole lot. Playing inside the majority of his career doesn't exactly help his case, but hopefully his production will go up.

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Defensive Backs: Picking balls off

Our defense ranked tied for 22nd in the country last year in INTs. For a team defense that was poor last year in most statistical categories, that’s a pretty good ranking for them. Anyway, for this trend to continue we’ll need guys like Chris Lammons (pictured above) and Jamarcus King to stay healthy and consistent all year. Along with them, a DB group that isn't very deep is going to have to step up this year.

Chris Lammons, one of my personal favorite Gamecocks, is poised to have a pretty good year (three Interceptions and 35 tackles last year) at the nickel position. He's kind of like a Swiss army knife for T-Rob in that he can play corner and safety. With Jaylin Dickerson going down recently, Lammons will be one of the main ones to be playing safety if someone in the secondary gets hurt. This would open the door for Jamyest Williams, the jewel of the 2017 class.

If you watched the Clemson-USC game last year, you’ll when Jamarcus King got piggy back ridden in to the end zone by Mike Williams. Now, D.J. Smith is part of the blame for not taking Williams to the ground, but that said, Jamarcus is still a very slim corner. King excelled in the first seven games of the year, with three interceptions and six passes defended, but was sort of lacking when facing better opponents. Hopefully, Jamarcus will have a sound and consistent senior year.

Rashad Fenton is the guy who seems to be one of the most unappreciated players for USC. He was anonymously “a millionaire walking” by one SEC coach, so obviously a coach in the SEC thinks this guy can be “the guy” if he can get it together. Stats wise, Fenton had a pretty good year with a game clinching interception against Missouri, 28 tackles, and five passes defended over 12 games. If things fall into place, Fenton will have an All-SEC type of year.

The two safeties that will most likely be staring against NC State will be D.J. Smith & Steven Montac. To me, D.J. Smith is going to need to be more of a consistent player for the Gamecocks. Some games it felt like a different D.J. was out there (D.J. Swearinger that is) and other games it felt like he was a ghost. Smith led the Gamecocks in tackles and had an interception, and more consistent play from him is going to be vital this year. Steven Montac was a two-star JUCO transfer, having two forced fumbles and 39 total tackles last year. Appearing in all but two games in 2016 and featuring improved stats towards the later part of the year, Montac will have a chance to help out a thin secondary.

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Linebackers: Skai is Back

The main reason that the linebackers are the top is because of Skai Moore. With another senior in Bryson Allen-Williams and a solid sophomore in T.J. Brunson working with Skai in the LB core this year, I believe they're the best position group on defense.

Skai Moore is by far and beyond one of the best linebackers to ever play at USC, and with a great year this year I believe he would solidify himself as the best. Only three interceptions from tying the USC career leader in INTs, I do believe Skai will pass Bo Davies by the end of this year. After leading Carolina in tackles as a sophomore and junior with over 200 tackles, hopefully Moore will return to form and make Carolina’s defense above average again.

After becoming a full time starter for Will Muschamp last year, Bryson Allen-Williams was one of USC’s better players on defense last year. With 75 combined tackles last year and three acrobatic interceptions over the past two seasons, hopefully Bryson will build off of his last two years. With eight and half tackles for a loss and two sacks last year, expect Muschamp to dial things for #4 to get in the opposing backfield.

A young player behind a group of seniors at MLB last year, T.J. Brunson got most of his reps on special teams and appeared in 11 out of 13 games for USC last season. Slotted in the starting spot at MIKE for Coleman Hutzler, Brunson is looking to build off a year in which he gained a lot of experience. If all goes well, T.J. will be a presence in the middle of the field for the Gamecocks this year.

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Overview: Room to Improve

Look, to say our defense was good last year would be a stretch. Our best two categories were turnover margin and team interceptions. Practically every other stat for our defense was between 50-100, and some were even in the hundreds.

Will Muschamp and most of the coaches he brought in were known for their defense coaching ability. In the secondary department, I would say our DB’s improved vastly from the end of the Spurrier era. With our numbers being as thin as they were at corner and safety, ranking top 25 in the country in INTs is something to be proud of.

Our defensive line is still very subpar from a pass rush standpoint and only ranked #90 in rushing yards allowed per game. For USC to have a good year, our linebackers are going to have to play immaculately. T.J. Brunson and BAW will most likely be the guys who will be helping with the pass rush - or lack thereof in recent year - and Skai will be the cover guy. If all three of the position groups can keep opponents below 21 points per game, things stack up for a solid year.