Biggest Needs: The most notable offensive losses heading into 2013 are running backs Marcus Lattimore and Kenny Miles, receiver and special teams star Ace Sanders and center TJ Johnson. Underrated tight end Justice Cunningham graduated, too, moving the lost starters up to four. USC has some depth at running back in Brandon Wilds and Mike Davis, but they had to land another back for depth purposes. And with three upperclassmen on the offensive line, the Gamecocks had to add some big uglies.
While Carolina’s offense returns some experience, the defense has six holes to fill, including having to replace the top four tacklers. Keep in mind this defense has finished in the top four in back-to-back seasons in total defense in the SEC. The four who leave the biggest voids are defensive end Devin Taylor, linebacker Shaq Wilson, spur DeVonte Holloman and safety DJ Swearinger. The secondary was able to replace three starters other than Swearinger heading into 2012, but as the lone returner, his talent, playmaking ability and experience made up for the difference. Swearinger was one of the most underrated players in the league in 2012, and he’s moving up draft boards as we speak.
Needs Met: Spurrier had his sights set on the offensive line, making it a focal point on offense, and he signed arguably the top offensive line class ever at USC. Four-star guard DJ Park and four-star tackle Na’Ty Rodgers highlight the five signees. Park, the South Carolina native, is an early enrollee, and he along with Rodgers will provide some instant depth to one of the weaker positions the Gamecocks had in 2012. Arguably the biggest get on offense is running back David Williams. The 6-0, 200-pound Williams could jump into the rotation with Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds next season. And Spurrier signed arguably his best quarterback prospect in early enrollee Connor Mitch. Mitch isn’t likely to get much playing time in 2013, but he’ll get his feet wet with Connor Shaw out this spring.
Spurrier and Lorenzo Ward signed 11 true defensive players. But none are bigger than tackle Kelsey Griffin. The Georgia native could slide right into the rotation next season along the interior of the line, and it was big that USC held on to Griffin down the stretch. Griffin is just one of four defensive linemen, with the other three defensive ends. Of the 11 defensive signees, five were linebackers, headlined by four-stars Larenz Bryant and Skai Moore. Both Bryant and Moore should see early playing time because of the lack of depth. Early enrollee and JUCO transfer corner Ronnie Martin could get into the mix in the secondary early. Underrated star Mohamed Camara could compete for playing time at linebacker and in the secondary, too.
Biggest Get: With the loss of four top linebackers, the North Carolina native Larenz Bryant was a must get. The 6-1, 215-pound linebacker has to come in and be ready to compete right away. Bryant is a great athlete who could play on either side of the ball, but he should make an impact on defense in his first season.
Biggest Miss: Virginia stud linebacker Matt Rolin was committed to South Carolina for seven months before flipping his commitment and enrolling early at Florida. Rolin, who is currently recovering from knee surgery, was expected to compete for playing time this season. He will still be doing that, but it won’t be at South Carolina.
Final Evaluation: Even in more of a down year in the Palmetto State as far as high school talent is concerned, I would have liked to have seen South Carolina bring in some bigger names for the 2013 class. The reality is that the reason the Gamecocks have been posting 11-win seasons with ease is largely because they have dominated their state in recruiting and have signed the top player in South Carolina for the last four consecutive years in Shaq Roland, Jadeveon Clowney, Marcus Lattimore and Stephon Gilmore. This year, however, the Gamecocks only signed three of the top ten and missed out on the top four players in the state. But going out of state and landing running back David Williams, defensive tackle Kelsey Griffin, offensive lineman Na’Ty Rodgers and linebacker Larenz Bryant was big, paving the way for the future.
Final Grade: B
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