South Carolina’s linebackers are going to get a new look in 2021.
As defensive coordinator Clayton White institutes his 4-2-5 system, the Gamecocks will operate with two inside linebackers and a handful of hybrid positions that will give White flexibility in his play calling.
White has spent the bulk of the offseason being asked about what the 4-2-5 might look like come game time. That’s still TBD. But heading into fall camp, there are enough pieces to get excited about on a defense that feels like it might be a smidge better than initially projected.
USC linebackers: What we know
On the interior, Debo Williams and Sherrod Greene should see ample time either alongside or spelling one another.
Greene is among the most experienced returners on the South Carolina defense. In four years, he’s notched 25 starts in 36 appearances despite playing only one game last season due to a fractured hip he suffered in the preseason.
Williams, a transfer from Delaware, has burst onto the scene since arriving in Columbia and has a legitimate shot to earn the starting job.
“Not many guys can come in and then really take that bull by the horn like that (and be a leader),” White said last week. “That’s a stretch, but (Williams) is a leader. He’s going to be a leader.”
Brad Johnson has emerged as a leader on the outside despite seeing two of his seasons shortened by injuries. Originally an edge rusher before moving to linebacker, Johnson has accumulated 38 total tackles in four years.
Former four-star recruit Mo Kaba should also factor into the linebacker equation. Kaba was thrust into a major role a season ago when injuries plagued the position. He could parlay that time into a bigger role in 2021.
Other names to watch in the middle of White’s defense include strong side linebackers Damani Staley and Rosendo Louis Jr. Staley has been a key cog previously and should be again this year. He’s appeared in 38 games over his four years at South Carolina, recording 108 tackles in that span.
“We’ve got guys who’ve been there before,” White said of how confident he is in the unit heading into fall camp. “They understand it. The guys listen to them.”
USC linebackers: What we don’t know
Talent aside, Johnson hasn’t played a full season since 2018 due to injuries, and Kaba missed the spring game.
Head coach Shane Beamer has said there aren’t any major injuries lingering into fall camp, but the linebacking corps’ injury history has to raise some level of concern.
Louis should offer some nice depth behind Staley as he’s shown enough in previous years to be an encouraging piece when healthy.
He was an Under Armour All-American coming out of high school, but injuries have limited his effectiveness at the college level. This could be one of his last chances to really make an impact on the Gamecocks defense.
South Carolina projected linebacker depth chart
Starter: Sherrod Greene
Backup: Deebo Williams
Starter: Damani Staley
Backup: Mo Kaba
Starter: Brad Johnson
Backup: Rosendo Louis Jr.