South Carolina Football is enjoying the best run in school history, and many are optimistic that will continue in 2014. After previewing the offense and the front seven for next season, it is time to take a look at South Carolina’s secondary.
South Carolina seems to always lose a plethora of defenders to the NFL draft or transfers, but the defense is still the strongest link for the Gamecocks. The secondary has sent players like Stephon Gilmore, Antonio Allen and D.J. Swearinger to the NFL in recent years.
Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree also left the Gamecocks after the 2013 season, and for once it is unclear how the remaining players will shape up. Senior Brison Williams, capable of playing at corner or safety, will lead the secondary, but there is a significant lack of experience in the three other positions.
Williams has been a two year starter at strong safety and will have the responsibility of keeping his younger teammates in line this season. He had 45 tackles last year and an interception. Strong safety is his preferred position, but he may have to slide over to corner due to a lack of depth in that position.
Junior T.J. Gurley is more than a capable backup to Williams, and he could easily fill in as the starting strong safety. Gurley, weighing in at 190 pounds, is a solid 25 pounds lighter than Williams, but he had 30 tackles in the 2013 season. Even if Williams stays at safety, expect Gurley to be an important part of this secondary.
Chaz Elder will start at free safety. The sophomore played in 12 games last season and recorded 29 tackles. The 6-foot-2, 196 pound Elder has the speed to keep up with the quick receivers he will face, and he has decent size to get jump balls.
Corner is the worrisome position for the Gamecocks. There is very little experience at the position, and the learning curve will be steep for this group. Williams sliding in would help, but there is a great chance that freshmen will start.
Sophomore Jamari Smith will move from offense to defense in order to compete for a starting corner job. The former tailback rushed for 103 yards with 10 carries against Coastal Carolina, but he wants to be on the field as soon as possible instead of waiting behind Mike Davis and Brandon Wilds.
Rico McWilliams is a redshirt freshman who was sidelined for the entirety of the 2013 season. He was highly touted coming out of high school, and he should make a big impact this year. He knows the position well, and he had a year to observe Legree and Hampton so he should be ready to step in just fine.
Redshirt freshman Ali Groves will also be in the mix for a starting corner job. Expect him to be in a tight race for the two starting positions with McWilliams and Smith. He was not allowed to have contact this spring after a shoulder surgery.