COLUMBIA -- Antonio Allen was one of South Carolina's most productive football players last season. The senior led the team with 88 tackles and ranked third with 9 1/2 tackles for loss in his second year as the starting spur outside linebacker.
Now, replacing Allen is one of the most important tasks USC's coaches must accomplish before next season. But they aren't fretting about the guy taking Allen's place, even though he has never played spur in a game.
Rising senior DeVonte Holloman ranks among USC's best players on either side of the ball. While starting at strong safety the past two seasons, he demonstrated a rare combination of size and speed. He also played spur last spring before moving back to strong safety in the fall.
Holloman returned to spur when USC began spring practices Tuesday, and his coaches talked optimistically about the versatility he could bring to his new, but not unfamiliar, position.
Holloman is 6-2 and 241 pounds -- nine pounds heavier than his listed weight from the end of last season. Allen was 6-2 and 202 pounds last year.
"Antonio is a little more athletic than DeVonte, but you're going to gain a lot more physical guy at that position and a guy that can blitz," said new defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward. "We feel good about moving DeVonte. Hopefully, he'll pick up and even do better, especially knowledge-wise, than Antonio."
Ward said last year that Allen was a "learn-with-reps" player who needed to actually play in games to grasp the system, rather than just learning from film study.
With a bigger player at spur, the Gamecocks might be able to blitz more in 2012 than they did in 2011 under defensive coordinator Ellis Johnson, who preferred not to rush more than his four defensive linemen.
"I hope we do get to blitz a lot more," Holloman. "Either way, I'll be ready to cover (receivers). I'll be ready to get in the box (with the defensive front seven) and stick my nose in there with the linemen. I'll be prepared for everything."
Last spring was tough for Holloman as he learned how to play closer to the line of scrimmage. But he feels more comfortable with the position already this spring because of that experience.
"This year is just reminding myself of what I did last spring," he said. "You're not being a free (roaming) guy anymore (like) at safety. People are actually looking to block you. That was the toughest part."
Coming out of high school, Holloman was rated the nation's No. 10 outside linebacker by Rivals.com. Because of his size, Holloman likely will play outside linebacker rather than safety as a professional, said USC's new linebackers coach, Kirk Botkin, who played in the NFL from 1994-97. So this year will help prepare Holloman for the next level.
"The beauty with Holloman is, he's a guy who's 240 pounds and can run like a deer," Botkin said.
"He has cover skills, but then he's big enough to get in there and get in the box and stop the run. A guy like that gives coach Ward a lot of leeway to do a lot of different things."
While Holloman isn't as fast as Allen, which Ward acknowledged, Botkin said USC's coaches usually design pass coverages so that the spur gets help from the secondary when he is required to cover a slot wide receiver or tight end one-on-one.
Ward is determined to play Holloman at safety this season. But it depends on sophomore Brison Williams, back from a brief offseason suspension for breaking team rules, performing better at strong safety than he did while starting one game in Holloman's place last season.
"(Spur) is where DeVonte is going to play next season, unless we can't get a boundary (strong) safety to come in and fill his spot," Ward said. "I feel good about Brison."