To help college football fans get through the dog days of summer before conference media days launch the preseason festivities in mid-July, The Post and Courier is counting down the 12 most important South Carolina Gamecocks and 12 most important Clemson Tigers for 2013. The series continues today with No. 7 for each team, and will run each day until it
concludes with the No. 1 players on July 7.
No. 7 South Carolina — Kaiwan Lewis
South Carolina must replace all three of its linebackers, and the leader of this group last season was Shaq Wilson, a third-year starter who led the team with 86 tackles. A lot of action, especially in the run game, gets funneled to the middle linebacker — “mike,” in USC’s parlance. Last year, Wilson was solid for the most part at this spot.
With the linebacker group being overhauled in 2013, Kaiwan Lewis steps in at middle linebacker after playing on special teams last season as a true freshman. The fact that he experienced Southeastern Conference environments, albeit not on as a regular part of the defense, should still help him in his first season at a critical position.
Because he was playing, Lewis didn’t practice with the scout team last season, so he was in the regular defensive meetings rather than the scout team meetings. He got to see how the whole operation works.
“I think he picked up a lot from that, just maturity wise,” said linebackers coach Kirk Botkin. “The first time we go play in Tennessee, it won’t be new for him. Some of these other guys, they might be a little bit star-struck. He’s been there and he’s kind of done it. Sitting through all the meetings we had, I think you can still learn a lot from that.”
Moreover, Lewis is the only current USC linebacker who worked at the “mike” spot in 2012, which gave him a head start entering spring practices. He came out of the spring as the leader at mike. USC will rely on him to maintain its run defense, which ranked No. 17 nationally last season, after ranking No. 45 in 2011 and No. 12 in 2010.
Position: Middle linebacker
Hometown: Mays Landing, N.J.
Last year: Played 11 games, almost exclusively on special teams, and had three tackles.
No. 7 Clemson — Travis Blanks
The Sunday entry suggested Mackensie Alexander could make an impact immediately as a freshman defensive back from Florida. Kind of like what Travis Blanks did last fall.
Blanks was one of the league’s best first-year playmakers, earning the start as early as week two against Ball State and recording seven solo tackles in his first career road game at Florida State. He had a clutch pass deflection at Boston College, and capped his year with a spectacular all-hands interception of Zach Mettenberger to snuff a late first-half threat in the Chick-fil-A Bowl.
Clemson occasionally will utilize that nickelback position, and Blanks was a great fit as a hybrid safety/linebacker as a freshman.
This year, after the departures of Rashard Hall, Xavier Brewer and Jonathan Meeks, Blanks will be counted upon to play center field as a free safety on all three downs.
Height/weight: 6-1, 190
Hometown: Tallahassee, Fla.
Last year: Second-team Freshman All-American by FoxSports.com, thanks to his 51 tackles and seven pass breakups while playing all 13 games (eight starts).