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Does Muschamp have tools for quick rebuild of USC defense?

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DeVonte Holloman

South Carolina's DeVonte Holloman intercepts a Clemson pass during fourth-quarter action in Columbia on Nov. 26. Holloman, Larenz Bryant and Jonathan Walton as seniors, and junior Bryson Allen-Williams, are USC’s experienced linebackers for 2016.

COLUMBIA -- Will Muschamp, regarded as one of the top defensive minds in the country, hired protege Travaris Robinson as South Carolina defensive coordinator and secondary coach.

Together, they seek to build up a downtrodden Gamecock defense that has experienced scarce success the past two seasons. Will they succeed?


DEFENSIVE LINE: As we've mentioned, the first two years of the post-Clowney era have not been kind to the USC defensive line. During Jadeveon Clowney's three years with the Gamecocks (2011-13), USC averaged 33.0 sacks and 29.7 QB pressures per season. Over the last two years, USC is averaging 17.0 sacks and 26.5 QB pressures. Thus, the number of sacks have almost halved, while QB pressures are down modestly. Doing the math, USC 'affected' the quarterback an average of 62.7 times per season from 2011-13. In 2014-15, that average fell to 43.5, a significant drop.

What kind of talent does Muschamp and Robinson have to work with? Cedrick Cooper, Gerald Dixon, Gerald Dixon Jr. and Phillip Dukes are gone. Darius English (modest revival in 2015 after a nightmare 2014 season), Kelsey Griffin, Abu Lamin and Marquavius Lewis (45 tackles, 3 sacks, team-high six QB pressures) are seniors in 2016, while David Johnson will be a junior.

Dante Sawyer (2.5 sacks) and Taylor Stallworth (eight tackles in injury-filled season) shared playing time this past season, but could be USC's top two defensive tackles in 2016. Most pleasant surprise? Defensive end Boosie Whitlow, unheralded when he arrived last summer but he jumped to the top of the depth chart by the end of the season. He looks to be the playmaker the new defensive line coach could spotlight.

Dexter Wideman and Shameik Blackshear both redshirted in 2015. How much Blackshear will contribute in 2016, though, is up in the air after he was shot multiple times recently.

Four-star defensive tackle Darius Whitfield (listed at 6-foot-1, 268 pounds) from Mobile, Ala., could make an immediate impact, but needs to add some weight in order to compete physically with SEC interior offensive linemen.


LINEBACKER: The decision by Skai Moore, USC's leading tackler for the past three years, to declare for the NFL Draft leaves three seniors (Larenz Bryant, T.J. Holloman and Jonathan Walton) and junior Bryson Allen-Williams as the experienced linebackers on the 2016 roster. JUCO transfer Ernest Hawkins is a rising junior but played sparingly on defense this past season, making one tackle. Rising redshirt freshmen Daniel Fennell and Sherrod Pittman are waiting to pounce in case the players above them on the depth chart falter. Three-star prospect Jacorey Morris from Grove Hill, Ala., arrives on campus this summer.

Holloman (63 tackles) and Walton (42) would appear to have the inside track on starting jobs based on past production, but Bryant could challenge for playing time in Muschamp's 4-3 scheme after making just one tackle in 2015. Allen-Williams had a renaissance of sorts late last season after being virtually forgotten earlier in the year. He arrived at USC in 2014 backed by substantial hype, but has been ben moved around to various positions since then. If he is allowed to settle down at one position, he could thrive.


SECONDARY: Robinson will also serve as secondary coach, meaning USC's group of defensive backs is working on a third different position coach in three years. The highly acclaimed 2014 cornerback class has had mixed results in the first two years. Wesley Green is no longer with the program, while Al Harris Jr., D.J. Smith and Chris Lammons have been inconsistent. One week they look good, the next they play poorly. The result? Mediocre performances.

Two players, both JUCO transfers, could shake up the cornerback position in 2016. Jamarcus King from Coffeyville (Kansas) Community College is rated the No. 1 JUCO CB in the country by He had 37 tackles, three interceptions and 10 pass breakups in 2015. The Eight Mile, Ala. native originally committed to Auburn a couple of years ago.

Second, Toure Boyd arrived on campus late from Chaffey College in California last August. Although he hoped to play early, he never caught up and eventually redshirted.

Graduate transfer Isaiah Johnson is gone after one season, leaving the safety spots to Jordan Diggs, Chaz Elder, Ali Groves, redshirt freshman Antoine Wilder and Smith. None had special seasons in 2015, so Robinson should be carefully evaluating both safety spots throughout spring practice to get the best fit. Jasper Sasser and Darin Smalls were listed at spur last season, and their 2016 roles have yet to be determined.


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