As the Gamecocks tumbled from early favorite to also-ran in the SEC East last year, the corrosive issues on the defense were what undid the team. A lack of a pass rush and an inability to cover or tackle all culminated in a 7-6 record that was solidly disappointing.

One area that emerged as a strength, and continued on that path this spring, is the linebacker group.

After a year of experimenting with a 3-4 defensive alignment, South Carolina is going back to a 4-3 defense, something that the young veterans at linebacker are well suited for. After dealing with inexperience last season, the Gamecocks now have three vets ready to handle the rigors of the SEC and anchor the defense.

In 2014, Skai Moore came on as one of the most versatile middle linebackers in the SEC, one capable of playing the run or dropping back in pass coverage. His 93 tackles and three interceptions both represented the 11th-best totals in the conference, respectively, and he led all SEC linebackers in interceptions.

Toward the end of last year, Jonathan Walton burst onto the scene as a reliable weakside linebacker, one capable of matching Moore in his sideline-to-sideline coverage. Walton didn’t become a full-time starter until midway through the season, yet still finished third on the team in tackles and was impressive down the stretch.

Adding to that core is Bryson Allen-Williams, a formerly touted linebacker recruit who spent much of his freshman season at linebacker trying to juice up a pathetic Gamecocks pass rush. With the added perspective gained from playing with his hand in the ground, Allen-Williams moves into a starting role at strongside linebacker as a sophomore.

With those three holding down the starting spots, the Gamecocks have a solid rotation behind them. T.J. Holloman will back Moore up in the middle, while freshman Jalen Henry and junior college transfer Ernest Hawkins were both already on campus this spring.

As they shift back to a more beneficial defensive alignment under new co-DC Jon Hoke, the Gamecocks should see vast improvement throughout the front seven. It helps that there’s a major talent infusion along the front four, with several big-time signees already on campus and several more following this fall. Having a defensive line that can generate a push and put pressure on passers will be a boon for the three men lining up in the next level.

Walton and Allen-Williams will also add versatility to the linebacking group. While it seems Walton will be the player that stays on the field in nickel situations, the two players have learned the other’s role, as linebackers coach Kirk Botkin told earlier this spring.

This year, the bigger stumbling block for South Carolina could be on offense, where there are still question marks at quarterback, receiver and along the offensive line. The defense is still coming together, but unlike last season it’s shaping up that South Carolina will have at least one position group it can lean on.