Ward, Gamecocks to tinker with 3-4 defensive alignment

Abundance of good linebackers could lead to change

jkendall@thestate.comMarch 6, 2014 

South Carolina's defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward

GERRY MELENDEZ — gmelendez@thestate.com

Lorenzo Ward is short on defensive linemen and flush with talented linebackers.

He also has plenty of time since South Carolina held the first of 15 spring practices on Thursday afternoon. The combination of all those factors means the Gamecocks’ third-year defensive coordinator will take a long look this spring at a 3-4 defensive alignment, Ward told The State on Thursday evening.

Could the Gamecocks make a full transition from the 4-2-5 alignment they’ve run under Ward and previous coordinator Ellis Johnson to a true 3-4, which uses three linemen and four linebackers in a base defense?

“It depends on how much we get done (this spring),” Ward said before adding, “I won’t say it’s definitely a 3-4. It’ll be more like how we used (Eric) Norwood in 2009 when he was here.”

Norwood played a hybrid linebacker/end role that season and was named a first-team All-American.

“He could put his hand in the dirt and rush the passer and create four down linemen or we could stand him up and be an outside linebacker,” Ward said.

Defensive end Cedrick Cooper, linebackers Skai Moore and Jonathan Walton and incoming freshman Bryson Allen-Williams could fill that role, Ward said.

“We will definitely look at doing some new things where we can beef up our depth especially from the defensive front standpoint by playing with a lot more three down linemen and putting four linebackers on the field,” Ward said.

Three of the Gamecocks top four returning defensive ends – Cooper, Darius English and Mason Harris – weigh less than 235 pounds, which would make it difficult for them to be a three-down player at the position. On the other hand, with Moore, Walton, Kaiwan Lewis, T.J. Holloman and Marcquis Roberts all returning at linebacker, South Carolina would have a tough time finding enough playing time this fall with two linebacker slots.

The Gamecocks’ spur position is essentially a linebacker spot and has five more players – including Sharrod Golightly, Jordan Diggs and the promising Larenz Bryant – fighting for playing time.

South Carolina held a two-hour workout at its indoor practice facility Thursday. It won’t hold its second spring practice until March 18 due to the university’s spring break.

“It was good to get one in,” Ward said. “Hopefully, when we get back from spring break, we will have great weather and get all the fans out there to see us run around.”

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