Post-spring depth chart: LB's and Secondary

With spring practice in the books and the 2012 season rapidly approaching, GamecockAnthem takes a look at the 2012 post-spring depth chart and which incoming player is most likely to make an impact this fall. In part four of the five-part series, we take a look at the linebackers and secondary.

Outside linebacker

1. Damario Jeffery –
After being behind Antonio Allen the past three seasons at the Spur position, Jeffery has finally worked his way into a starting position at WLB. Jeffery has solid numbers as a back-up with 63 tackles, five tackles for loss, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery in his first three seasons. Now in the starting lineup those numbers should go up.

2. Quin Smith – Like Jeffery, Smith has often found himself in a back-up position during his career at Carolina. After playing the majority of his time on special teams his freshman season, Smith has been one of the top back-ups on the team the last two seasons. In 2010 Smith registered 49 tackles and forced two fumbles. Most Gamecock fans remember Smith welcoming Tajh Boyd to college football with a crushing blow in Death Valley. Last season Smith split time with Reginald Bowens and collected 48 tackles. Look for Smith to push Jeffery and both could earn their fair share of playing time this season.

Freshman most likely to make an impact:

T.J. Holloman –
Holloman was the only outside linebacker to sign with Carolina and he has the potential to be a solid player. At only 215 pounds he is a little light to play linebacker in the SEC. Depending on how much weight he puts on this summer, Holloman likely won't see much playing time at linebacker. He could play some special teams.

Middle linebacker

1. Shaq Wilson –
Opposing offensive coordinators will be wondering how many years Wilson has been at Carolina. Wilson enters his fifth year and will likely play in 50+ games in his career. In 2010 Wilson battled a nagging hamstring injury he suffered on the first day of summer practice. Wilson tried to return to action in the regular season match-up with Auburn and recorded seven tackles and recovered two first-half fumbles. The medical staff and coaches decided to shut Wilson down the remainder of the season and he applied for a medical redshirt. He was granted the request and will return for his fifth season in 2012. Wilson has recorded 158 tackles, two sacks, three fumble recoveries, and two interceptions over his Gamecock career. Wilson will be the quarterback of the defense once again this season and his presence as a leader is just as important as his statistical output.

2. Reginald Bowens – Bowens will serve as a valuable back-up to Wilson in the middle and the team will not skip a beat with Bowens on the field. Bowens' journey has been a long one with surgeries on both of his shoulders and a knee sprain that sidelined him for several weeks between the two shoulder injuries. Bowens was healthy for the first time in 2011 and he put up solid numbers. After playing in just 14 games his first two seasons Bowens played in 12 games last season – starting eight – recording 41 tackles, had his first fumble recovery in the wild contest with East Carolina, forced his first fumble in the blowout win over Kentucky, and had a key interception in the win over Mississippi State. Look for Bowens and Wilson to split time in the middle.

Freshman most likely to make an impact:

Kaiwan Lewis –
Like Holloman at WLB, Lewis was the only MLB to sign with the Gamecocks. Unlike Holloman, Lewis could be physically ready to step in right away if he is needed to. At 6'2, 225 pounds Lewis was rated as the 15th best linebacker in the nation according to Scout.com and shoved around linemen and running backs that attempted to get in his way all season. Lewis is one that could see action fairly early on.

Spur

1. DeVonte Holloman –
Will this move be for good? Holloman was expected to battle Allen for playing time at the Spur position last year, but after Allen's tremendous start to the season and the weakness in the secondary, Holloman was moved back to safety following the Georgia game and remained there the rest of the season. With Allen gone, Carolina needs Holloman at Spur and hopes that someone will step up at strong safety. Holloman's size and physicality makes him a perfect fit for the Spur position.

2. Sharrod Golightly – No Jared Shaw? Not yet. Golightly was a solid contributor on special teams last season, but was buried on the depth chart behind Allen and Jeffery. With Jeffery making the move to WLB the time is now for Golightly to step up because Shaw is already on his heels.

Freshman most likely to make an impact:

Jordan Diggs –
Shaw isn't the only one Golightly needs to worry about. Diggs is a solid tackler and gets to the ball in a hurry. He may be a little on the light side for the position, but don't let his size fool you. He has that kind of mean streak in him when he gets on the field that defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward will love to have.

Cornerback

1. Akeem Auguste and Victor Hampton –
After a year at corner and a year at safety, Auguste knows the defense inside and out. However, he has not stepped onto the field since last spring. Auguste suffered an injury to the arch of his foot during the summer and never got onto the field. After being on the squad for four years, the coaching staff decided to shut him down for the spring to ensure he will be 100% when the team meets up this summer. Auguste will have to shed some of the rust and get back into game shape, but he will be ready to get back on the field.

No one has bigger shoes to fill than Hampton. Hampton will be replacing Stephon Gilmore, who was taken by Buffalo as the tenth choice of the NFL Draft Thursday night. Hampton has had troubles off the field that nearly cost him his Carolina career before it even got started. Hampton did everything necessary to get back on the team and responded with a solid season that almost included a kickoff return for a touchdown against Arkansas. If Hampton puts it all together on and off the field, he could be the next high draft pick of Cornerback U.

2. Jimmy Legree and Jared Shaw – Everyone loves the underdog story. Coaches and media alike were singing the praises of Shaw the entire spring. The senior who has not yet earned a scholarship (don't use that "W" word) had the spring of his life and his ability to play Spur, corner, and maybe safety has Ward excited about what he could bring to the team this fall. Look for Shaw to play all over this fall.

Legree was a player that had an opportunity to step up last season, but couldn't quite make the transition from corner to safety. Legree got the starting job at free safety to open the season, but was replaced by Holloman after the Georgia game. Legree's playing time dwindled throughout the season, but he should be a solid back-up this season.

Freshman most likely to make an impact:

Rico McWilliams –
How can you not get behind a kid named Rico from Lovejoy High School? Aside from the name, McWilliams can play. The Georgia native had offers from all over, but ultimately chose to come to Carolina. Rated the 28th best prospect at corner McWilliams has the speed and height to stay with receivers. Rico could make a push for one of the back-up roles. Chaz Elder is also a name you could hear at corner or safety.

Strong safety

1. Brison Williams –
Williams would likely have started at strong safety last year had he not broken his arm during fall practice. Williams was forced to miss the first four games of the season, but he played in seven of the remaining nine games and recorded 10 tackles. Now back at 100%, Williams should have the starting job locked down.

2. Kadetrix Marcus – Marcus did not see much action on defense last season, but has the potential to be a solid back-up to Williams. Marcus was one who had an excellent offseason and was solid all spring. Don't be surprised if Marcus starts a few games this season over Williams.

Freshman most likely to make an impact:

Kyle Fleetwood –
Fleetwood is a great story. Projected as a wide receiver by some, Fleetwood will definitely play safety at South Carolina and will likely be at the strong safety position. Despite recent minor heart surgery, Fleetwood will be fine to play. His coverage skills aren't quite to the college level yet, but he is aggressive and will come up and make a hit. He's another freshman that could have an immediate impact.

Free safety

1. D.J. Swearinger –
Receivers beware. Any receiver that comes over the middle in hopes of catching the ball will receive a shot from Swearinger. He is a head-hunting safety that loves to hit. Swearinger had 80 tackles last season, but also had three interceptions. Swearinger had the key interception to preserve the win over Mississippi State and followed that up with a huge interception at the Tennessee goal line. He is the total package that could have easily declared for the NFL draft, but he has some unfinished business.

2. Sheldon Royster – Royster gets the nod here. Though he has struggled at times with the schemes and knowing where to be, his interception that he returned for a touchdown in the spring game showed his athletic ability. Edward Muldrow could also be the guy, but he was the one burnt on the opening play of the spring game by Damiere Byrd.

Freshman most likely to make an impact:

T.J. Gurley –
Like Swearinger, Gurley is a head-hunter that plays with reckless abandon. Gurley could end up playing either safety spot or corner, but with the potential lack of reliable depth behind Swearinger, Gurley will likely start out at the free safety position. If Royster or Muldrow does not step up, Gurley could end up being the number two guy. He could also be a valuable asset on special teams, particularly kick coverage.


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