Norwood adjusting to life at linebacker
Junior linebacker Eric Norwood brings an interesting skill-set to the table. The 6'1", 270 pound defender has brought a combination of raw determination, excellent footwork, and a natural pass-rushing instinct to the defensive end position for two years at USC. Now, starting his third year in the program, Norwood looks to bring those same traits to a new spot on the Gamecock defense.
New defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson says Norwood's ability is uncanny for a player his size, which prompted him to switch the First Team All-SEC selection to linebacker.
"I don't know if I've coached a kid with his physical size that has the versatility he has," Johnson said. "I've never seen a guy with natural pass rush skills like him that also seems to have a really good, solid knowledge of perimeter play, adjustments, zone drops, and that kind of thing."
Norwood, who was second on the team with 69 tackles a season ago and set a school record with 19.5 tackles-for-loss, has taken the move in stride and is working as hard as ever to get better.
"It's going good. Yesterday was kind of an adjustment. It was kind of fast, but everything is starting to get a little slower (and) start to get into my comfort zone."
Norwood says the fact he played around 45 percent of his snaps standing up last year and also played linebacker his sophomore or junior year of high school should help make for an easy transition. Despite the move, Norwood should still see some time at his familiar defensive end spot.
"I still go to D-end on third-and-long… (and) maybe when we go nickel or dime. Some stuff I might stay at ‘backer. It's still going to be probably 80 percent ‘backer, but 20 percent (I'll have) my hand down coming on third down rushes."
USC All-SEC middle linebacker Jasper Brinkley likes the idea of Norwood standing up alongside him in Johnson's system.
"I think it was a great move for the team. He's another guy that's got good size (and) good speed." (He's a) playmaker. You've got to keep the guys like that on the field."
Brinkley might have only played under Johnson for two practices, but the senior leader already seems to be reading his new position coach's mind. Johnson echoed the same sentiments as Brinkley.
"The thing we've got to do, and we're not at that point yet, is we've got to tweak our scheme to make sure that (Norwood), Cliff (Matthews), Jasper (Brinkley), and hopefully Melvin (Ingram), if Melvin will continue to improve,… (get) on the field at the same time in normal situations. And that's where Eric… with his versatility is going to be the one that's going to allow us to do that."
According to Johnson the Gamecocks are in a unique situation with the type of athletes they have on defense, which gives him a good problem to have.
"I never thought I'd say this, but this football program is almost too heavy in defensive linemen," Johnson said. "You can't find those guys, but somehow they've found them. They've done a tremendous job of recruiting that position the last few years, and we've got extremely good, talented, big, strong, mobile, and deep defensive line.
Johnson says that is not the case at linebacker, which led the coaching veteran to look at other positions to try and bolster the linebacking corps.
"At linebacker right now there are not a lot of proven bodies. There's some (young) guys who have some athleticism… (and some) who have played in a different scheme (that) we've got to get in the right place," Johnson said. "We made that switch the other day because we thought that Eric was the more versatile player and Cliff was not using his ability to the full extent which is playing pass rush."
According to Johnson he will fit his scheme to his players and plans to mold the weakside linebacker spot to fit Norwood best.
"As the scheme progresses, Eric is going to become more and more of an outside linebacker on the line of scrimmage as opposed to a linebacker dropping (into a zone) and that type of thing."
Norwood, who has 13.0 sacks in his South Carolina career, says he doesn't think playing linebacker will keep him from racking up hits on the quarterback.
"I'm going to be All-Conference. I think I can be. Not to be cocky, but I've got a lot of confidence in myself and I know the coaching staff has got a lot of confidence in me," Norwood said. "I'm going to hit (a) higher (sack total). I want to hit higher."
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