South Carolina football: 5 biggest holes to fill in 2021 starting lineup
With a returning quarterback, running back and most of the offensive line, South Carolina certainly has several known commodities on offense. Defense is a much different story.
The Gamecocks return 6 starters on offense but just 3 on defense: DE Aaron Sterling, LB Sherrod Greene and Buck/DE Kingsley Enagbare. The secondary is being completely overhauled.
The biggest hole to fill is at wide receiver, where Shi Smith leaves a massive void, especially if you consider the No. 2 receiver was largely MIA for much of last season. Smith had nearly twice as many catches as the next closest receiver, Nick Muse, who made a big move at the end of the season.
Here are the 5 biggest holes for the Gamecocks to replace in 2021:
WR: Ahmarean Brown replacing Shi Smith
Anytime a receiver is mentioned in the same sentence with Calvin Johnson, it’s a good thing, and that’s certainly the case with the Georgia Tech transfer. Brown had 11 catches for 183 yards and a touchdown in 2020 but did not play in the final 3 games. However, in 2019 he appeared in all 12 games and produced a historic season, as he tied Johnson for most receiving touchdowns by a freshman at Georgia Tech with 7. He also had a team-leading 396 receiving yards on 21 receptions to average 18.9 yards per catch.
Smith’s production was 57 catches for 633 yards and 4 touchdowns. His 70.3 yards per game average was 7th in the SEC in 2020.
DL: Zacch Pickens replacing Keir Thomas
The 6-3, 310-pound Pickens is primed for a breakout season and ready to elevate himself into a discussion of an All-SEC lineman. The former 5-star prospect made eyebrow-raising plays against Tennessee and Florida last season, and overall had a sack, 2.5 tackles for a loss and 35 tackles in 10 games, including 8 tackles against Ole Miss and 6 against Texas A&M.
Although Thomas was more versatile and played multiple positions, Pickens can set a goal to shoot for Thomas’ consistency and production. In 5 seasons with the Gamecocks, Thomas appeared in 47 games and made 32 starts with 132 tackles, 18.5 tackles for loss and 8.5 sacks.
LB: Sherrod Greene replacing Ernest Jones
This is an easily overlooked huge hole to fill as Jones was one of the more consistent players, especially on defense, in the SEC for a couple seasons. He led the Gamecocks in tackles each of the last 2 seasons, with 86 in 2020, and 97 in 2019. Jones was a consistent voice, especially with the media, to discuss the Gamecocks’ defensive struggles.
Greene battled a hip injury and missed all but one game of the 2020 season. But it’s safe to say that Greene has exceeded expectations coming out of high school as a 3-star prospect. He has been a 2-year starter and has 132 career tackles. Similar to Pickens replacing Thomas, Greene developing consistency with his production will be a key factor for the 2021 team.
CB: Cam Smith replacing Israel Mukuamu
At cornerback, Smith is one of the more experienced Gamecocks who return in 2021 after a rash of NFL departures and transfers. He had 16 tackles and 2 interceptions in 8 games in 2020, as his playing time ramped up down the stretch after Mukuamu and Jaycee Horn opted out.
Mukuamu ran a bit hot and cold and battled a groin injury for a good chunk of the 2020 season. He may be most remembered for the acrobatic interception against Florida last season, and, of course, the 3 picks against Georgia in 2019.
S: Jaylin Dickerson replacing Jammie Robinson
Dickerson, a safety, is one of the best potential stories in recent years. In the spring game 3 years ago, Dickerson broke up a pass early and had 8 tackles by early in the second half as he drew rave reviews from broadcaster Greg McElroy during the game. While he’s had 33 career tackles and is a probable starter in 2021, 2 shoulder surgeries have slowed Dickerson’s progress.
Robinson was another transfer portal entry following the firing of Will Muschamp. But he was a dependable player in the secondary and was a starter last season. He made 135 tackles, 2 interceptions and 8 pass breakups in his 2 seasons with the Gamecocks.