The South Carolina Gamecocks lost four starters on offense and five on defense from a team that went 11-2 in 2011 and safety D.J. Swearinger still thinks things can and will be better in 2012.
"It was a good season for us last year, and we're looking to do better things this year," Swearinger told the mass of media poking a microphone in his face at SEC Kickoff 2012. "A lot of those guys are gone, we'll miss them tremendously, but we believe we've got the players that can step in and fill those shoes. We've had a good off-season, and we're looking forward to starting camp."
Head Coach Steve Spurrier was singing the praises of his defense earlier as he addressed the media and Swearinger believes the Gamecocks can be top notch on that side of the ball this year and they have been working hard this summer to be as good as they can be.
"I think our defense is one of the best in the nation, not just in the SEC," he said. "We've got to work to earn it though, and we're working hard in the off-season to try and get in the No. 1 spot this year."
Swearinger watched as two SEC teams squared off in the national championship game a year ago and understands how important the defense is with the talent that Alabama and LSU put on the field on that side of the ball in January.
"It was a defensive game," he said. "I picture South Carolina getting there, but it's going to take a lot of hard work and we just have to take one game at a time."
Swearinger carries a little bit of the swagger of his head coach. Steve Spurrier isn't shy about telling folks what he thinks and Swearinger thinks that Spurrier's swagger does carry over to the team.
"Coach Spurrier is a confident coach," Swearinger said. We think he gets the best out of players, especially on the offensive side of the ball, but he gets the best out of all of us."
Spurrier has said many times in the past that his team gets 12 days a year to shine and preparing for those 12 days is what this team has to do. No excuse for a day off in the Fall when you play football in front of 80,000 people. Swearinger thinks the team is prepared to make a big move.
"We just got to keep striving for excellence," he said. "Excellence is the key all season. Our goal is to get to the top. 11-2 is not good enough in our eyes. When every game comes around, we're going to give it our all, starting with Vandy."
The Gamecocks also return a more level headed quarterback and a guy that has already made a lot of big plays for the team. The confidence in Connor Shaw is very high among his teammates.
"Connor is a tremendous leader," Swearinger said. "He went into the spring knowing he's the starter, and this is his team this year. We look up to Connor, and Connor's going to be a great quarterback this year."
With all the hoopla of a new SEC with 14 teams and South Carolina playing one of Missouri in year one of the change, Swearinger says his team is looking at one thing.
"We think those teams are good, competitive teams, and we're ready to see them, see what they're really made up," he said. "Missouri comes to us for the fourth game, but right now we're focused on Vandy."