It is clear to most everyone around Columbia that the South Carolina Gamecocks have upgraded their recruiting efforts since Will Muschamp’s arrival. They are rebuilding their roster, trying to add as much speed and depth as they can. However, it is a senior and not a freshman that may be the biggest commitment they got for the 2018 season. After missing much of 2017 with injury, linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams decided to return for a second go at his senior season. His return will give an otherwise young position group a veteran to lean on.
Replacing a Legend
The return of Bryson Allen-Williams is even more important when the graduation of Skai Moore is accounted for. Moore was a four year starter for the Gamecocks. He was the first player in school history to lead the team in tackles in for four seasons. Moore also tied the school’s career mark for interceptions with 14. He will be making plays on Sunday next season, as he signed with the Indianapolis Colts after somehow not getting drafted this past May. His production, play making and instincts will all be missed. It will be a replacement by committee approach for the Gamecocks. They cannot expect one player to make up for the loss in production Moore’s graduation creates.
Bryson Allen-Williams Return
The senior from Ellenwood, GA was primed for a big year in 2017. He had 10 tackles, three for loss, two sacks and an interception in the first three contests. The linebacker suffered a shoulder injury against Kentucky and had to miss the rest of the season. Allen-Williams was able to use his red-shirt and save a year of eligibility. He will get a second attempt at his senior season, and will be looked at to be a play maker for Will Muschamp’s defense. For his career, he has 15 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and four interceptions. Not only will he be looked at for leadership, but he’ll be needed to provide a pass rush off the edge. Allen-Williams has a solid combination of strength and quickness. This allows him to dart in to opposing backfields and hold up blockers until he can make a play.
If there is a player on this defense who can step into Skai Moore’s shoes, it will be T.J. Brunson. The junior from Columbia finished second to Moore in total tackles last season. He had 88 tackles, 4.5 for a loss, and two sacks as a sophomore. Brunson has shown good in game I.Q. and the toughness needed to fill in at middle linebacker. He was the first player Muschamp went to see after arriving at South Carolina. His coach has often praised his tackling ability and instincts off the ball. The local kid will also be leaned on for leadership as he begins his second season as a starter. The tandem of Brunson and Allen-Williams will give the Gamecocks a formidable pairing in the middle line of their defense.
Two of the spots in the linebacker corps are set. The rest of the rotation will be a mix of young players looking to make their mark. Sherrod Greene played in eight games as a true freshman, and should see his playing time increase significantly in 2018. He had 21 tackles in limited action. Greene played well in the spring and should be in line for the starting spot beside the aforementioned veterans.
Daniel Fennell has played both defensive end and outside linebacker in his two seasons as a Gamecock. He came on strong at the end of last season, finishing with 5.5 tackles for loss and three sacks. Look for him in various pass rush packages, or to sub in if Allen-Williams needs a breather. Eldridge Thompson played sparingly after transferring from junior college last summer. He could be more involved as well, with a full season of SEC play under his belt.
Freshman Looking to Help
The rest of the supporting cast will be made up of untested youth. True freshman Rosendo Louis could get a chance to make an early impact in his Gamecock career. He is the typical linebacker size, standing 6’2” and weighing 240 pounds. He should have no issues adjusting to the SEC’s physicality. It is hard to gauge a freshman’s impact based on high school film, but he shows great potential. He could become the first big, hard hitting linebacker the Gamecocks have had since Jasper Brinkley was laying out opponents over a decade ago. Damani Staley, red-shirt freshman and son of former Gamecock Duce Staley, will also try and make an impact. He could add some extra pass rushing prowess to this linebacker group.
Allen-Williams decided to return for his senior year in hopes of elevating his NFL draft stock. If he can build off the solid start he had to 2017, he will play a crucial role for the Gamecocks in addition raising his draft potential. The Georgia native also came back for one more shot at a homecoming trip to Atlanta and the SEC Championship Game. The defense has improved each season under Muschamp, and could make an even bigger jump in 2018. Allen-Williams and T.J. Brunson will need to lead this young group to raise their own level of play. If they can, they could help South Carolina make only its second trip to Atlanta in December.