Will Muschamp could be faced with the biggest challenge of his coaching career next season.
Overhauling a South Carolina defense that finished no higher than 50th in the country in any major statistical category last season will be quite the undertaking for the Gamecocks’ first-year coach.
And it certainly doesn’t help that the best player on defense is still sidelined with an injury.
At a booster club meeting Tuesday night in Mount Pleasant, S.C., Muschamp told supporters that second-team All-SEC linebacker Skai Moore continues to deal with a herniated disc in his neck, which forced him to miss all of spring practice.
The senior from Cooper City, Fla., has been the Gamecocks’ top tackler every season since his arrival in 2013, but his status for 2016 is still an unknown. Muschamp wouldn’t go into much detail about the injury when Moore was the first player asked about during the fan question and answer session.
“He’s going to stay at linebacker. He’s a guy who’s a very versatile player who I think has a big upside as a player,” Muschamp said. “He’s been a great football player for us and I’m excited about getting him on the field. I can tell you about that.”
Of all the freshmen signees set to report this week, JaMarcus King may be the most eagerly anticipated. King, who hails from outside of Mobile, Ala., by way of Coffeyville Community College, is ranked as the top junior college cornerback recruit in the country.
Muschamp’s familiarity with King dates back to June, when the four-star cornerback committed to Auburn. The pledge was off the books before the end of September.
“He’s a guy that I had in camp,” Muschamp said. “He’s got really good ball skills down the field. He’s got some good top end speed, to finish. He’s got some length. Some of the receivers that we play against now are longer and bigger guys that you’ve got to play against downfield.
“I’m excited about him. He’s certainly a guy, I see it. I know what a good DB looks like and he certainly has the ability and the talent to be successful. How quickly does that transition for him? I don’t know, but I do know that he has the ability.”
There’s no doubt the secondary is chief among the concerns for Muschamp into his first season in Columbia. He does, however, feel much more comfortable with the personnel that will make up the front seven.
He rattled off four names when asked about underrated players from the defensive side of the ball.
“John Walton is a guy that I was really impressed with in the spring. He’s a senior. I know he’s moved around to a couple of different positions, but the guy is explosive. He’s a guy that has got a good change of direction, good punch and power, good flexibility in his lower body,” Muschamp said. “Bryson Allen-Williams had a great spring. He’s got pass-rush ability. We’re going to have to use him in pass-rush situations.
“I think the two young defensive linemen, Keir Thomas and Kobe Smith, are going to be good defensive linemen. How quickly? I don’t know, but I think both guys are going to be very good Southeastern Conference football players.”
The Gamecocks could use the help. In 2015, they finished 95th in total defense, while allowing 429.8 yards per game. South Carolina tied with Colorado for 70th in scoring defense (27.5 points per game).
On the ground, opponents rushed for an average of 217.42 yards per game, which was 110th best in the country. Opponents passed for 212.4 yards per game, which ranked 50th.