Secondary eyes improvement

The South Carolina football team returned to practice Friday night at the indoor practice facility due to severe storms that passed through the midlands early Friday evening. Following the practice, Lorenzo Ward and Jeep Hunter discussed the 2011 Gamecock secondary.

When you think about the biggest weakness in the 2010 South Carolina defense, the answer is simple. Poor pass coverage. The Gamecocks were one of the worst teams in the country defending the pass in 2010 and they have focused on improving that for the 2011 season.

"We're probably stronger and faster than we have been since I've been here," defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said following Friday night's practice. "(We've) Got a lot more competition, so when you have a lot more competition it's going to make each other better."

It's not that there was a lack of talent - guys like Stephon Gilmore, Devonte Holloman, Akeem Auguste, and D.J. Swearinger had all the talent in the world. Most of the problems centered around depth. Carolina welcomed Martay Mattox, Kadetrix Marcus, and Ahmad Christian to the fold, and also welcomed back Victor Hampton and Cadarious Sanders after redshirting last season. That's the kind of depth that will keep Gilmore from playing 50-60 snaps a game as he did most of last year.

"You're never more than one play away from playing so we have to get them all ready to play," Ward said. "Vic Hampton has had a great three days of practice. Cadarious Sanders has done well. Kadetrix, Ahmad has done well. I'm real impressed with the young guys and how they're picking up the knowledge and what they're bringing to the table. The older guys know we have a lot of competition."

Marcus, rated the 30th best safety in the nation coming out of high school, will likely see the field as a corner over a safety.

"His best position is probably safety, but he has the hips to play corner," Ward said. "We want to start him outside first and if we have to we'll move him inside."

Gilmore, who struggled at times last season, still had a good enough season to earn third-team All American and first-team All SEC last season and enters his junior season as a Playboy preseason All American and preseason Lott Trophy candidate. Gilmore, whether it be because of over-aggressiveness or miscommunication with the safeties, found himself chasing down receivers after getting beat on a double-move more times than he'd like. That's something he's worked hard on in the offseason.

"We want you to be aggressive, but your eyes play a big factor," Ward said. "If you're breaking and you're looking at the quarterback, he (receiver) could be taking off.

"The one thing I talked to Stephon about is explosion because he got beat on a couple of double moves last season," Ward continued. "That what people are going to take him with this year, and it looks like he's done a lot of work this summer and we're doing a lot of different drills for double moves. If he just gets better in that department I think he'll improve his game."

With Akeem Auguste battling an injury in the arch of his foot, that has allowed some of the younger guys to get some reps at the other corner. Auguste is expected to be back some time early next week.

One of the offseason moves in the coaching staff was Jeep Hunter moving from tight end coach to safety coach, allowing Ward to focus more on cornerbacks. Hunter already has one of the safety spots filled before he even made the move with the return of Swearinger. Swearinger was fourth on the team in tackles last season with 66 tackles, had one interception and forced one fumble. Swearinger has worked hard to improve himself over the summer.

"DJ has had a great summer," Ward said. "He's won a lot of awards in the weight room. He's been a leader. He understands what we're doing on defense. He's going to be a big, physical tackler for us and he's got good hands and can play the ball. We expect DJ to have a big season."

Hunter says behind Swearinger at the Boundary Safety is Brison Williams and Sheldon Royster. Royster has impressed Hunter.

"Sheldon Royster is playing quite well right now," Hunger said. "He still has a ways to go but he's doing some good things out there. He's also made some mistakes but we're pleased with where he's at right now."

Royster has had a yellow jersey on this week with an injured shoulder. Tonight was the first time the team practiced with shoulder pads and had some light contact. Hunter seemed to think Royster did okay.

"Today was the first day we had shoulder pads on and a little bit of contact so we'll see how his evaluation goes after tonight," Hunter said. "We'll take it one day at a time and do what our trainers want us to do."

The Free Safety position is where there is some concern right now. The position was vacated last season after DeVonte Holloman moved back to a more familiar role as Spur. Jimmy Legree - who has moved from corner to free safety - is the leading candidate with Sharrod Golightly and Royster behind him.

"Three days into it we're positive with the direction they're headed," Hunter said. "If they continue to progress we'll be okay. Right now I think the biggest thing is that they learn assignments and continue to play hard."

The Gamecocks will return to the Bluff Rd practice facility tomorrow morning at 9:30 A.M. weather permitting in shoulder pads and helmets. The practice is open to the public but there is no scheduled media availability following practice. Sunday afternoon will be Media Day with practice scheduled for 7:30 P.M. Like Saturday morning's practice, Sunday's practice will be open to the public with no media availability following practice. Sunday is scheduled to be the first time they practice in full pads.

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