Redshirt Report: Defense
One player who could make an immediate impact on the defensive unit is 5-10, 179 pound cornerback Jamire Williams. The former four-star prospect, according to Scout.com, struggled with injuries early in the 2007 season and did not quite grasp the playbook well enough to contribute immediately, but possesses all the physical abilities a top corner needs. Williams has decent size for a cornerback, can run, and has the hips and ability to change direction to come in and quickly grab a spot on the two deep. The former First Coast high school star could also bring more physical play to the spot to complement All-SEC performer Captain Munnerlyn.
Another defender who could warrant playing time next season is linebacker Alonzo Winfield. The 6-0, 200 pound Winston-Salem, NC-native reportedly had a solid year on the scout team and could find his way onto the depth chart at the weakside linebacker position as a speedy backer who can cover tailbacks out of the backfield. Winfield joined the Gamecocks after originally committing to the University of Tennessee, and was somewhat of an afterthought in USC's huge 2007 class. The main thing he lacks now is the size to not get knocked around in the SEC, so Winfield can benefit most from a productive offseason with Strength Coach Mark Smith in the weight room. Winfield should get every opportunity in the spring and fall to show he deserves a spot in the rotation.
The South Carolina defensive line will get help from the addition of two freshmen who redshirted during the 2007 season. 6-1, 304 pound Donte'e Nichols is the type of run-stopping defensive tackle that a USC defense which has often struggled with the run could use. The Pampano Beach, FL-native took a year to get to know the system and develop, but with a solid spring could make a move into the playing rotation on the interior of the Gamecock defensive line.
The other defensive lineman who redshirted this past year is defensive end Byron McKnight. While McKnight was not as highly recruited as his high school teammate and fellow defensive end Travian Robertson, the USC coaches were extremely high on his raw athletic ability out of high school. Under a solid nutrition plan and weight training regimen for the first time in his life, McKnight has reportedly already started to develop his body-type and his play on the field. While the 6-5, 220 pound athlete still may be a year away from getting his weight up high enough to contribute at end, he has the frame to add enough good weight to eventually contribute, and has a tremendous upside off the edge.
While we mentioned wide receiver/safety Mark Barnes in the article on the offense, there may be just as good a chance Barnes makes an impact on the defense. Barnes is a natural free safety and could help the depth-depleted unit next year. While All-SEC performer Emanuel Cook and Darian Stewart return, the two spots behind them should be wide open for someone to step up and take. While it's not confirmed that Barnes will move to defense, don't be surprised to see Barnes get a long look in the defensive backfield.
The South Carolina redshirt who will make the biggest impact if he returns is senior linebacker Jasper Brinkley. Coach Steve Spurrier has remained positive Brinkley will be given a medical waiver and allowed to come back for another year at USC after missing most of the season due to a knee injury he suffered in the LSU game. Brinkley has maintained that he plans on coming back to South Carolina and would be the major force in the middle the defense sorely missed for much of this past season. Brinkley was the heart and soul of USC's defense during the 2006 season and the first part of the 2007 season. Brinkley's play makes those around him better, and a South Carolina defense with a Brinkley back in the middle in 2008 is something all Gamecock fans should be able to get excited about.
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