Coach Will Muschamp is well known for his defensive acumen. Over the years as both a head coach and an assistant, he has produced a number of strong defenses, and a plethora of NFL talent. He spent his first two years at South Carolina rebuilding the roster; adding talent, speed, and depth. Now that he enters his third season, Muschamp is looking to get his defense up to the standards he is used to. The biggest overhaul in year three is in the Gamecocks’ secondary. South Carolina lost seniors D.J. Smith, Chris Lammons, and Jamarcus King off of last season’s team.
South Carolina Gamecocks’ Secondary
There will be plenty of new faces in the Gamecocks’ secondary in 2018, how these players step into their new roles will be a key component as to how this defense progresses. Both Muschamp and defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson are former defensive backs. Their expertise is in the secondary, so developing and organizing this new look group should be a little easier. The group will not be all new comers, as veterans Rashad Fenton and Stevan Montac will be there to help the young player’s learning curve.
A Long Lineage
While the overall history of the South Carolina football program can leave a lot to be desired, the tradition of great defensive backs cannot be argued. They are currently second among college teams in terms of starts by former players at defensive back in the NFL with 668. The long line of stars in the Gamecocks’ secondary stretches from the Patriots’ Stephon Gilmore all the way back to former Super Bowl Champ and Redskin Brad Edwards. There are currently six former Gamecocks who played defensive back in the NFL last season. D.J. Swearinger, Captain Munnerlyn, Darian Stewart, Jonathon Joseph, and Gilmore have all been starters for multiple seasons since going pro. Other former Gamecocks such as Sheldon Brown, Andre Goodman, and Terry Cousins have also left campus in Columbia to find success in NFL secondaries.
While most of last season’s defensive backs will need to be replaced, the Gamecocks’ secondary is not without experienced members. Rashad Fenton is an All-SEC talent who returned for his senior season. He has the ability to lock down his side of the field with minimal help. His coverage skills will allow Coach Robinson to adjust his defense when needed. Allowing South Carolina to lend help to the less experienced players. With a big season, Fenton should join the aforementioned Gamecocks in the NFL. Safety Stevan Montac also returns to bring his ball hawking and hard hitting style to the Gamecocks’ secondary. Even in somewhat limited playing time, he still made his impact known. Montac seemed to make big plays at crucial times, whether that be a big hit on a receiver or grabbing one of his three interceptions.
South Carolina will also have two of its newcomers bringing experience with them. Two graduate transfers will be joining the Gamecocks’ secondary this season. Nick Harvey and J.T. Ibe are transferring in from Texas A&M and Rice respectively. While it may take the two some time to learn all of the nuances to Coach Muschamp’s defensive scheme, each already knows what it takes to compete at the college level. Harvey will add depth to the cornerback spot, while Ibe gives South Carolina another extra safety in the rotation. Harvey will have to face his old team this season, as the Aggies travel to Columbia in mid-October.
Besides being a defensive guru, Muschamp is also known as a relentless recruiter. He will need to lean on the fruits of that labor this season. Youngsters like Jaylin Dickerson, Tavyn Jackson, Jaycee Horn, and Israel Mukuamu should all get significant playing time in 2018. Dickerson was in line to possibly start at safety as a true freshman, but a shoulder injury ended his season before it began. Jackson was also slated to play last year but was hampered by a hamstring issue. Horn and Mukuamu are highly touted true freshman that will look to make an impact in their first year on campus. Mukuamu is a very big 6’4” corner, which is a rarity, while Horn is the son of former NFL star Joe Horn.
Rising sophomore Jaymest Williams played a lot as freshman, mostly as the slot corner. He has bulked up in the off-season, and may move to safety for his second year. His versatility will give the Gamecocks’ secondary options as to what personnel packages they use. Williams had 32 tackles, including four for a loss in his first season. He also had two interceptions and a fumble recovery. Keisean Nixon played sparingly at the end of the 2017 season. He showed a knack for making big plays and should see his role increase.
Smothered and Covered
The Gamecocks’ secondary will have more overall depth than it has had in the past two years. However, some of that depth is untested. Last season they allowed 226 yards and 58% completions to opposing offenses. As Coach Muschamp stockpiles and develops more talent the numbers should get better for his defenses. Regardless of yardage allowed, this team used a bend but don’t break motto. They were in the top half of the SEC in scoring defense, and averaged 2.2 takeaways per contest last season. This unit will look to improve on their opportunistic ways in 2018. South Carolina’s tradition of elite defensive backs is established. It is now up to the current players to reach the standards set by their predecessors.