Will Muschamp’s quest to rebuild South Carolina’s defense took a major hit on Tuesday, when the first-year Gamecocks coach told reporters that Skai Moore would miss the entire 2016 season after undergoing neck fusion surgery.
The announcement at the annual SEC meetings in Destin, Fla. comes on the heels of Muschamp’s final booster club tour stop, when he updated fans on the herniated disc in Moore’s neck.
Losing Moore for the season stings, but if there’s a position group where South Carolina can weather losing a starter, it’s linebacker. Led by seniors T.J. Holloman and Jonathan Walton, the Gamecocks still have a handful of veterans returning to the position.
Holloman has started in 16 games at South Carolina and he finished last season as the team’s third leading tackler with 63 stops. After spring practice, he was listed as the co-starter at middle linebacker with Walton, who has over 100 tackles in 12 career starts.
Holloman was also listed as a co-starter at weakside linebacker with senior Larenz Bryant. A U.S. Army All-American out of high school, Bryant has appeared in 34 games over the last three seasons, logging just three starts.
Bryson Allen-Williams, another U.S. Army All-American, exited spring ball as the starting strongside linebacker.
The presence of that quartet helps fill the void. Of course, Moore is widely regarded as South Carolina’s best defensive player. Some would make the case that he’s the best overall player on the entire roster.
In each of his first three seasons, Moore has been the team’s leading tackler. His 111 tackles in 2016 were the second most by a Gamecock defender in the last 25 years. He’s versatile, too — enough so that the coaching staff has toyed with the idea of utilizing him as a hybrid linebacker/safety in sub packages. Moore needs three more interceptions to break the school’s career record of 14, set by Bo Davies (1969-71).
Moore was voted All-SEC second-team last season by the league’s coaches and media. Pharoh Cooper, the only other Gamecock named to any of the four teams, was drafted by the St. Louis Rams in April.
Because he hasn’t taken a redshirt at South Carolina, Moore will be eligible to play in 2017. However, the Cooper City, Fla. product turned down an early entry to the NFL so he could return to Columbia for the 2016 season. There’s no guarantee that he’ll bypass another shot to turn pro.