COLUMBIA — South Carolina returns plenty of talent from a team that went 11-2 for a second straight season in 2012. But no position group has more holes to fill than linebacker.
The Gamecocks’ top two players at both the Mike and Will linebacker spots last season were seniors – starters Reginald Bowens and Shaq Wilson, and backups Damario Jeffery and Quin Smith. Starting spur outside linebacker DeVonte Holloman also was a senior.
After signing three linebackers in last year’s recruiting class, USC’s coaches have commitments from four more for the Class of 2013, which will sign letters of intent today. The Gamecocks will get outside linebackers David Johnson and Mohamed Camara, and inside linebackers Larenz Bryant and Gerald Turner.
Bryant, who’s from Charlotte, N.C., is the highest-rated recruit in USC’s class, at No. 112 nationally, according to Rivals.com. He’s the No. 4 inside linebacker. Turner, of Goose Creek High, is No. 23 at the position and No. 8 in South Carolina.
While the Gamecocks also landed the No. 3 and 6 in-state recruits – offensive tackle D.J. Park and center Bryce King, both from Dillon High – they had to supplement with lots of out-of-state recruits.
At 6-foot-1 and 215 pounds, Bryant’s not particularly hulking for his position, and his spotty performance in the U.S. Army All-American Bowl “gives me pause,” said Rivals national recruiting analyst Mike Farrell. But Farrell still believes Bryant can succeed at USC.
“When you look at him, you’re like, ‘This kid looks like a big safety,’” Farrell said. “But he’s got a lot of instincts. He makes every tackle.”
Running back Marcus Lattimore carried USC’s offense for much of the past three seasons with his tackle-breaking tenacity, which can make an offensive line look better than it really is.
Maybe Mike Davis can eventually break tackles like Lattimore did, but having physical offensive linemen won’t hurt Davis’ chances. So Farrell thinks offensive tackle Na’Ty Rodgers of Maryland (15th at his position and 181st overall) is USC’s most valuable recruit in this class. Rodgers is 6-5 and 278 pounds, and must gain weight.
“They need big, physical offensive linemen,” Farrell said. “He’s not ready to play right away, but in a couple years, he could be the guy.
Farrell is less convinced about Park, the 19th-ranked tackle. He is 6-6 and 335 pounds and enrolled in January.
“I just don’t know if it’s going to pan out,” Farrell said. “D.J. Park is a huge kid who’s got hands like pillows. But he doesn’t flash as super physical. So are they going to be able to light that fire under him and make him physical? I think he’s got a lot of potential. He’s strong as an ox. When he gets his hands on you, it’s over. Aggressiveness and physicality need to improve.”