In twelve days No. 12 South Carolina will open the season up in Charlotte against East Carolina. A new season will be upon us. A 2010 problem may rear its ugly head. With Brison Williams out with a broken arm, Martay Mattox declared academically ineligible, and Akeem Auguste still not back with an injury to the arch of his foot depth in the secondary may be a problem.
"They're not going to not play the game because we don't have the depth we're supposed to have with guys out," defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said following Monday's practice. "We'll get the one's ready to play that will be there."
If Auguste is back, he will be the field corner and Stephon Gilmore will be the boundary corner. C.C. Whitlock will back up Auguste and Marty Markett will back up Gilmore. If Auguste is not able to play, Whitlock will start at field corner and Ward says it will be a "coin toss" from there. Ahmad Christian, who Ward later said he wants to redshirt, may play.
"If Ahmad has to play he'll play," Ward said. "I feel comfortable if we have to put him in a ballgame. I think we'll be fine."
Carolina hoped to have Auguste back last week, but the injury had lingered and can be very painful to run on. Ward said that if Auguste is not back before Wednesday - when the Gamecocks being their game plan for the ECU game - he will not start, but did not specify when he had to be back if he was going to play at all.
Cornerback is not the only issue. As has been touched on, with the injury to Williams, the field safety position is lacking depth as well. Williams was pushing Jimmy Legree for the starting job, but it was pretty much a two-horse race. Kadetrix Marcus - who has been moved all over the secondary - is not quite ready yet according to Ward, and Sharrod Golightly could play both field and boundary.
Depth in the secondary is always crucial as they are the last resort on the defense. Carolina found that out all too well in 2010. Blown assignments were the norm with players forced to play most snaps and playing in different positions. It was supposed to be difference this season but, at least for now, it could happen again.
One area that is not lacking depth is the defensive line. Touted as potentially one of the best lines in the nation, the Gamecocks have plenty of depth at tackle and end. Defensive line coach Brad Lawing won't be giving any of them anything.
"I'm going to play the best players," Lawing said. "There's a bunch of them that will play in the opening game, and depending on how we can figure our front will determine who starts."
Naturally the one receiving most of the attention is freshman Jadeveon Clowney. It's almost a daily routine that Clowney's name will come up, even on days when the offense is interviewed. As good as Clowney was when he entered the program, he's getting better.
"He's learning how to use his hands," Lawing said. "Most kids coming out of high school that's the one thing they don't know how to do. They play off of talent in high school, but when you get to college you have to play off fundamentals and he's getting better at that."
Lawing is impressed with how complete of a defensive end Clowney is. Clowney has tremendous acceleration and gets to the ball in a hurry, but he's also shown that he's physical when running right through the offensive tackle that has the unfortunate task of trying to block him.
"The three things about him that you'll never know when he was being recruited," Lawing said. "Number one, he's very humble. Number two, he's a tremendous competitor. Number three, he wants to be coached. He comes up to me and says ‘coach...' That's one of the reasons he came here. I told him he's going to get coached. It's very impressive to me that a guy like him wants to learn."
The defensive tackle job aside Travian Robertson continues to be up for grabs. It's not from a lack of talent, but more of a case of everybody bringing something different to the table according to Lawing. Whether it's Aldrick Fordham, Kelcy Quarles - who Lawing has decided to keep at tackle and not an end - or Byron Jerideau, each player brings a specific skill set to the position that impresses Lawing.
The defensive line will have a difficult task with ECU quarterback Dominique Davis. ECU likes to throw the ball around and Davis is very tough to sack. In 2010 ECU allowed only 15 sacks in 13 games. Lawing compares ECU to Southern Mississippi, the 2010 season opener. Despite being one of the top teams in the country in sacks, the Gamecocks managed just one sack against Southern Miss. The Carolina defensive line will have to make an impact in different ways.
"They get the ball out quick - you can't sack them," Lawing said. "You try to knock balls down and make them throw it in a hurry. At the end of the game you all will be upset because we didn't sack the quarterback a bunch of times, but you don't get this guy. He just catches it and throws. We have to affect the quarterback. We've got to make him throw high or throw it around us."
Carolina returns to practice Tuesday at 4:15.
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