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July 30, 2011

Third and short: Taylor, Watkins, Whitlock



With preseason football practice starting on Aug. 3, GamecockCentral.com presents a new series that takes a look at three players per day who have either played in at least one game or appear on the post-spring two-deep depth chart.

DEVIN TAYLOR, redshirt junior defensive end

Before South Carolina: Devin Taylor was rated by Rivals.com as a three-star prospect out of Beaufort High School. He was also offered by Duke, Furman, NC State, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest.

The measurables: 6-foot-7, 248 pounds

Prior seasons

2008: Redshirted.

2009: Taylor didn't wait to make an impact, starting in the season-opener as Clifton Geathers sat out and forced a fumble on his first play from scrimmage. That led to the game's only touchdown in a 7-3 USC win. Then on NC State's second possession, Taylor blocked a punt. That became an outstanding first season for Taylor, who split time with Geathers abut still logged 28 tackles, 5.5 for loss, with another forced fumble against State.

2010: With Geathers gone, Taylor anchored the left side of the line as Cliff Matthews took the right. The quiet beast nicknamed “Don't Say Nuthin'? was named first-team All-SEC by The Associated Press after logging 46 tackles, with a massive 13 for loss, and 7.5 sacks. Opponents often double-teamed Matthews, which freed Taylor to rush unchecked to the quarterback or ball-carrier, and Taylor made it count with eight pass break-ups and 11 hurries. He recovered two fumbles and returned an interception for a touchdown against Tennessee and became known as one of the best-kept secrets in the SEC.

Impact

Taylor returns for another season after not giving the NFL any serious thought, but that could change after this year. A prototype end, with great speed despite sizable bulk, Taylor forces opponents to pick their poison when lining up. He'll be on one side, with Melvin Ingram (and probably Jadeveon Clowney later on) on the other, and the Gamecocks won't be easy up the middle, either. Taylor is in a perfect position -- keep logging statistics and the professional leagues may come calling with high draft projections, or come back for another season and keep wrecking offenses. He's not a secret anymore, but with two elite pass-rushers on each end of the defensive line, quarterbacks are going to be facing massive headaches.

ROKEVIOUS WATKINS, redshirt senior offensive lineman

Before South Carolina: Rokevious Watkins was rated by Rivals.com as a two-star prospect out of Georgia Military College. He was also offered by Hampton and UAB.

The measurables: 6-foot-4, 319 pounds

Prior seasons

2007: Went to Georgia Military after graduating from Creekside (Ga.) High School, and struggled for playing time.

2008: Emerged as a starter at GMC, where he helped open holes for a rushing attack that gained 180 yards per game.

2009: Redshirted.

2010: Watkins became a starter at right guard, then switched to left guard for Furman, then back to right guard and finished the season there. After a season spent re-defining his body, Watkins was still heavy but also had more stamina and plenty more muscle. Knowing that the offensive line was playing wounded, with really only six options, Watkins played through pain (like a sprained right shoulder against Furman that was healed enough for him to play against Auburn) to stay on the field.

Impact

Watkins has become a wonderful success story, drawing some early looks from the NFL and being regarded as one of the more sturdy linemen in the SEC during the preseason. It's well-deserved. Coming in from GMC with Steven Singleton, Watkins could have washed out and been a waste of a scholarship, but he stuck with the workouts, committed himself in the weight room and became a valuable asset to the team. He emerged from the spring as the starting right tackle, which may change; he's also the backup at left tackle, but Watkins' body seems to be a natural fit for guard. He should start the season at tackle due to his backup being redshirt freshman Cody Gibson, but if Gibson proves he can handle it, perhaps Watkins moves inside and A.J. Cann or Terrence Campbell can try to hold him off. He'll provide depth in any case, and if he can keep showing the ethic that got him to this point, he'll be a starter somewhere.

C.C. WHITLOCK, senior cornerback

Before South Carolina: C.C. Whitlock was rated by Rivals.com as a four-star prospect out of Chester High School. He was also offered by Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Kentucky and North Carolina.

The measurables: 5-foot-10, 181 pounds

Prior seasons

2008: After a short-lived experiment at receiver, Whitlock moved to cornerback and played in nine games. He recorded just one tackle but had one pass break-up.

2009: Whitlock started five of 12 games and had 16 tackles, with 2.5 for loss, and intercepted one pass.

2010: His best season, numbers-wise, Whitlock played in all 14 games and started the last three at corner, where he had 21 tackles and four break-ups.

Impact

Will this be the season that Whitlock finally puts it all together? Dogged by personal issues throughout his USC career, Whitlock has never lived up to the heavy potential that he has. Gifted with terrific speed and leaping ability, Whitlock can be a shutdown corner, but has never had that extra something that would push him into the unquestioned starting role. Knowing that he would never beat out Stephon Gilmore at boundary corner, coaches put Whitlock in the field corner role, but now Akeem Auguste is ahead of him. Whitlock can make an impact, but has to show that he's ready and committed to doing it on every down, every practice, every game. He'll get chances, as the secondary gets used to its new positions, but if he wants to truly be a veteran leader, it's up to him.

If you have any questions about this feature or wish to discuss it, please visit The Insiders Forum: https://southcarolina.rivals.com/forum.asp?fid=1824

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