FOOTBALL 2011: A Look Ahead – The Defense
The Gamecocks defense was a little down this year compared to 2009 giving up 25 p/p/g compared to 19 per game the previous year. They will look to rebound under new Defensive Coordinator Chris Boone with assistance from resident genius, Brother Oliver. Boone employed multiple defensive looks at UT Martin and he will likely bring that strategy to JSU. Here is a look at what Boone will have to work with as he attempts to bring a championship to Burgess-Snow.
Tim McGee. The Memphis transfer was here for only one year, but provided a big body and was a great run stopper. The coaches really liked the progress he made during the year and McGee may get an opportunity to play professionally. Note- the Gamecocks also lost Kevin Dix, but we have him as a linebacker although he frequently lined up with a hand on the ground much more like a defensive end.
Outlook for 2011:
The Gamecock 2011 defensive line will be a blend of youth and experience. A lot of the experience will come from Jamison Wadley who will be a senior bringing a ton of career starts to the table. Wadley, a Southern Miss transfer, has a motor that doesn’t stop and scored a touchdown on a turnover against Ole Miss.
A wildcard on the defensive line is Michael Ellis, a 300+ pound noseguard. Ellis played dozens of snaps early in the year starting most games, but may have been moved back to offensive line at the end of the season. If anyone knows the current plan for the Clay County product, let us know.
Dimetrio Tyson, Marquis George, and Monte’ Lewis (an all OVC performer) will be back as Defensive Ends, although Lewis could be moved to his more natural position of outside linebacker. Either way, look for Lewis to be in the opponents backfield more next season. Another player who will likely provide an immediate impact is junior college transfer Tanner Robertson. Robertson had 17 tackles for a loss for his junior college team last year.
The Gamecocks also have a bevy of young defensive linemen who will surely be given an opportunity to step up in the spring. Among them are Barry Stafford, Armani Williams, David Maness, Michael “Moosolini” Lewis, Bryant Hawkins and Shawn McAlister. Stafford, from Chamblee, and Hawkins, a Guntersville product, got some playing time this year as freshmen and therefore may have the edge on contributing even more in 2011.
Overall, there are certainly some players here, but the Gamecocks could use some help in 2011. In 09′, they added Florida transfer Torrey Davis. In 2010, it was McGee. Is there a big body out there that could help the Gamecocks in 2011?
Key Losses: Antonio Bonner (All OVC), Morrell Jones, Kevin Dix. This is three huge losses for the Gamecocks. These three players accounted for 167 tackles last year. Bonner was an all conference performer and Dix made a ton of plays before missing the second half of the season with injuries. Finding able replacements for Dix, Jones and Bonner will be a key for the Gamecocks in 2011.
Outlook for 2011:
The cupboard is certainly not bear, however. Moving Monte’ Lewis to linebacker might fill one position. Almost every JSU player will tell you that Lewis is probably the most dominant defensive player on the Gamecock roster. It would be exciting to see what he could do in space.
Also, Rodney “BigTexas” Garrott will be back, and should be an early candidate for All-OVC as he is already on the GamecockIllustrated.com All-American team for 2011. Garrott led the 2010 team in Tackles for Loss with 13 on the season and 6 Forced Fumbles.
An inside player that will likely fill one of the spots vacated by Jones and Bonner is Brannan Byrd. Byrd, a JUCO transfer, was one of the biggest hitters on the Gamecock defense in 2010. He had 45 tackles even though playing only a reserve role. Byrd is a dark horse all conference player for 2011.
Behind Lewis, Garrott and Byrd, the Gamecocks have several players that share several traits: they are young, can really run and have the potential to be great.
It starts with James Powell. Powell, from Mill Creek (Ga.) high school, got playing time in a regular rotation at linebacker as a true freshman making 25 tackles in the process. He should be better next season simply because of the learning curve.
Another player to watch is Rashad “Spiderman” Smith. Spiderman originally committed to N.C. State out of high school after earning player of the year accollades on the Florida Gulf Coast. Smith has the potential to do big things at Jax State.
Yet another runner and hitter is Anniston product, Brent Tolson. Tolson got playing time as a redshirt freshman and finished with 29 tackles.
Wildcards at linebacker are Eric Russell and Mike Whittier. Russell, a Prichard, Alabama product burst on to the scene in 2009 with 45 tackles, but sat out last year to concentrate on academics. If he returns in 2011, he will likely battle for a starting postion. Likewise, Whittier, a transfer is a great athlete who played quarterback last Spring. We need to confirm, however, that Whittier is still with the Gamecocks.
Yet another linebacker who showed promise in 2010 was Jewon Williams. Finally, although he hasn’t played yet, watch out for Chase Williams, a 2 Star player from Boaz that redshirted in 2010.
In sum, the Gamecocks are 2 Deep at Linebacker and it should be a position of strength in 2011.
The Gamecocks will surely look to improve their pass defense in 2011. They gave up almost 700 more yards in the air in 2010 than they did in 2009.
Key Losses: TJ Heath. The Preseason All-American TJ Heath didn’t have the year he had hoped for after missing the Spring with an injury and suffering a serious automobile accident in the summer. Nevertheless, the Gamecocks will miss the Alexandria product who made tons of plays during his time at JSU.
Outlook for 2011:
Even without Heath, the Gamecocks will have two senior corners returing in Jawaan Booker and AJ “Awesome Jet” Davis. Francis Duncan, a rising junior from Cartersville, Georgia appears to be next in the rotation.
Aside from Duncan, the Gamecocks have almost no known depth at corner. Tiger Williams, from Lincoln, Alabama may be a candidate to play and it was rumored that Rayce Whiddon, might move from cornerback to safety. Finally, Darian Thomas, a transfer from Florida International is a wildcard. He would have likely helped in 2010, but an injury forced him to miss the season. We are unsure if he is still on the team. Cornerback is one of the real need positions the Gamecocks must address in recruiting this year.
In contrast, the Gamecocks will be loaded at safety. Starters Keginald Harris (All OVC) and Jason Horton will both be back. Harris, led the 2010 team in interceptions with 5 and Horton was third on the team in tackles. Horton and Harris have the potential to sweep all conference honors in 2011.
Amazingly, the Gamecocks also return all of their reserves at safety as well. Brooks Robinson, Rob Gray and Nick Johnson, all of whom made significant contributions in 2010 are all returning. Robinson, a converted quarterback, thrived in his first year playing safety. Gray, is a physical player from Collinsville that the coaches were raving about in the Spring.
Overall, the Gamecocks appear set at linebacker and safety heading into the 2011 campaign. Hopefully, recruting and transfers will add some talent and depth at corner and defensive line.