COLUMBIA, S.C. — The countdown to the 2016 season has dipped to less than two weeks for South Carolina.
The Gamecocks entered their fall camp with plenty of questions and headed into the school year Thursday with some answered and some getting closer to being settled.
We take a closer look at where things stand for the South Carolina defense — earlier we looked at the offense — as the Sept. 1 opener at Vanderbilt nears:
Can the secondary elevate its play?
It hasn’t been pretty for the Gamecocks secondary in recent years, but things will look a lot different this year – at the very least, they will look differently for the style of play.
Get ready for more press-man on the edges with the cornerbacks, as Chris Lammons and Rashad Fenton are in line to be the starters. Jamarcus King is going to play and looks like he is the No. 3 cornerback, while senior Rico McWilliams was absent from the three open practices last week.
At safety, D.J. Smith and Chaz Elder have been the first-team pair through most of camp and have been getting plenty of hands-on attention from Will Muschamp as he coaches the safeties.
Muschamp said last Saturday that if the season started then, senior Jordan Diggs would be the starting nickleback. Steven Montac and Antoine Wilder also have gotten work at the spot.
We also know that Javon Charleston recently was moved over to safety to help add depth to the position and that Muschamp said Lammons is the third safety at this point.
What they said – senior cornerback Rico McWilliams: “Any scheme can fit a secondary if you just believe. If you believe in what coach T-Rob is doing, it will fit. If you don’t believe, it won’t fit. Everybody is buying in believing in that it will work. We are going to be pretty good. We just have to keep believing in what coach is doing.”
How will the linebackers line up?
What the group will look like without Skai Moore has become more clear, as the starting linebackers likely will be a combination of T.J. Holloman, Jonathan Walton and Bryson Allen-Williams, but with how multiple the USC defense will be, there won’t always be three on the field.
Both Holloman and Walton have gotten work at the middle linebacker spot, while Holloman also has been at the Sam and Dime linebacker spots. Allen-Williams has primarily been the Will, but also has gotten a good amount of opportunities at the Buck as it gives him the opportunity to really get out and make plays as a pass rusher.
T.J. Brunson has been one of the freshman standouts through camp, earning rave reviews that should translate into playing time and Sherrod Pittman also is in the mix for playing time. Senior Larenz Bryant is coming back from an injury.
What they said – defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson: “We’ve got a lot of guys that are starting to do different things for us. They’ve gotta be able to play multiple positions for us, Mike and Will, and even go out to Sam a little bit when we get into our regular package. So those guys are doing really great job and I really appreciate the job Coach (Coleman) Hutzler is doing with them, of getting them the discipline, getting them the details to do the job they need to do.”
Settling in up front
The lack of depth was a known concern up front for the Gamecocks, but a handful of freshmen figure to help aid that. But the starting group of linemen is looking like it will consist of Marquavius Lewis, Taylor Stallworth and Dante Sawyer with Darius English at the Buck.
But depth is going to, in part, come from the freshman group. D.J. Wonnum has been drawing rave reviews since the start of camp and he’s going to play as a freshman. He will be joined by defensive end Kier Thomas and defensive tackle Kobe Smith as immediate contributors up front.
RELATED: D.J. Wonnum continues to turn heads
Shameik Blackshear, Aaron Thompson and Ulric Jones also have seen work with the second-team, as the Gamecocks search for depth, while Daniel Fennell also is in the mix at Buck.
What they said – defensive line coach Lance Thompson: “We are working probably 10 guys at different positions, moving guys around, trying to get the best combination. But more than anything, trying to teach them the best techniques. Get a foundation that will last them through the season. So if one guy goes down at one position, the next best guy can go in the game. That’s kinda what we’re working right now.”
Mike Wilson covers South Carolina athletics for SECCountry.com and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter for the latest on the Gamecocks.