Today, we take a look at what should be the strongest and weakest positions for South Carolina entering the 2010 season:
Strongest position: Defensive line
Key returnees: Cliff Matthews, Devin Taylor, Ladi Ajiboye, Travian Robertson, Melvin Ingram, Kenny Davis
Key departures: Clifton Geathers, Nathan Pepper
The skinny: The only potential concern here is depth. Otherwise, it should be as good of a group of defensive linemen that South Carolina has put on the field in a long time. Several are rehabilitating from injuries/surgeries this spring, but are expected back in the fall. If younger players such as redshirt freshman defensive end Chaz Sutton come through, the Gamecocks will boast one of the top defensive lines in the league. It all starts with Matthews, who tied for the team lead with seven sacks last season and also forced three fumbles. He returns as one of the most complete defensive ends in the SEC and plays the run as well as he rushes the passer. Robertson was hurt for much of last season, but has a huge upside. It’s important that Ajiboye stay healthy, which is the reason the Gamecocks are being careful with him this spring.
Weakest position: Offensive line
Key returnees: Jarriel King, T.J. Johnson, Terrence Campbell, Kyle Nunn, Garrett Chisolm, Hutch Eckerson
Key departures: Garrett Anderson, Lemuel Jeanpierre
The skinny: Shawn Elliott is the Gamecocks’ third different offensive line coach in three years, which tells you a little something about where this group is. All of South Carolina’s problems running the ball under Steve Spurrier can’t be placed on the guys up front, but there’s no debating that the offensive line has been the weak link the past few seasons. A year ago, South Carolina gave up 37 sacks, which tied LSU for the most in the league. Even Spurrier has said Elliott has a big job on his hands. Fortunately, there is some experience coming back, and it looks like King has re-established himself as the starter at left tackle after struggling with injuries at the end of last season. Johnson has moved to center after starting all 13 games at guard last season. It’s never as cut and dry as it seems in the SEC. But if the Gamecocks can improve significantly on the offensive line and play more consistently, they have enough talent everywhere else to make a legitimate run at the East crown in 2010.