Experience and leadership shouldn’t be an issue for the South Carolina defense this season. Production is another story.

For a unit that finished in the middle of the pack in the SEC a year ago, Skai Moore is being counted on to be a difference maker. The decorated linebacker who led the team in tackles each year he was healthy is back from missing last season because of neck surgery to repair a herniated disc.

This is the second consecutive year the Gamecocks are looking to a linebacker to offer some stability and better yet, an impact on defense. Last year, Bryson Allen-Williams, who before 2016 had played BOB linebacker in a 3-4 alignment, defensive end, weakside linebacker and middle linebacker, was counted on to step up in Moore’s absence. Allen-Williams responded last season with 75 tackles, which was second on the team, two sacks and two interceptions.

The Gamecocks are looking for the same kind of production from Moore this season, especially given his career history.

Skai Moore is tied for third on SC's career INT list with 11. He needs four to break Bo Davies' record.

And speaking of positions, Moore, who is 6-2, 218-pounder from Cooper City, Fla., is expected to play weakside linebacker, the same place he played as a junior year. Playing next to middle linebacker T.J. Brunson and Allen-Williams, Moore’s return boosts the Gamecocks to what’s expected to be their best linebacker unit since he arrived as a 3-star prospect in 2013.

Moore had 56 tackles in 2013, 93 in 2014 and 111 in 2015. He could become the first Gamecock to lead the team in tackles in four seasons, a feat that has been done just 14 times in NCAA Division I history. With 260 career tackles, he likely won’t break J.D. Fuller’s career record (405 tackles), but he’s just 98 shy of moving into the Gamecocks’ top five.

With 11 interceptions, he’s in reach of Bo Davies’ program record of 14.

It’s the kind of production that was easily on display in 2015 when Moore had six games of double-digit tackles, including 11 in the opening win over No. 15 North Carolina.

At SEC Media Days, coach Will Muschamp said Moore brings an element of toughness, leadership, speed and athleticism.

“Very instinctive at the position,” Muschamp said. “He’s a playmaker and a guy we’re really excited about. Been through an awful lot this year as far as the adversity he’s been through. … Thought about coming out a couple times. I think he made two very mature decisions to come back. Really excited to see him play this fall.”

While Moore is well known around the SEC, he’s also on the national radar after recently being named to the Bednarik and Nagurski Trophy watch lists.