Who replaces Swearinger?

On Monday D.J. Swearinger was suspended for his hit in last week's game against UAB. With Swearinger sidelined for this week's key SEC match-up with Missouri, Carolina must find a replacement at safety. There are currently four options for his replacement, with opportunities for multiple players to step up.

Shortly after D.J. Swearinger's hit on UAB receiver Patrick Hearn, people began to wonder if Swearinger would be suspended for the helmet-to-helmet hit.

On Monday morning South Carolina received the news that was anticipated; Swearinger is suspended for Saturday's SEC East match-up with Missouri.

"The action is in violation of Rule 9-1-4 of the NCAA Football Rule Book, which reads, ‘No player shall target and initiate contact to the head or neck area of a defenseless opponent with the helmet, forearm, elbow or shoulder,'" the SEC said in Monday's statement. "By playing rule, a defenseless opponent is defined by ‘one who because his physical position and focus of concentration is especially vulnerable to injury.'"

By letter of the law, Swearinger's hit was a textbook example of what is no longer allowed. He deserved the flag and suspension, but the hit is very similar to that of the hit Justice Cunningham took in the fourth quarter of the season-opener from Vanderbilt's Andre Hal. The hit on Cunningham seemed much more vicious as Cunningham's helmet came flying off. The SEC was questioned of the difference between the two hits and replied that, while there was helmet-to-helmet contact between Hal and Cunningham, the brunt of the impact was to Cunningham's chest and shoulder area. The brunt of the contact between Swearinger and Hearn was to Hearn's helmet. While the SEC office appears to have seen a different replay on Hal's hit than the rest of the world, it is what it is as Steve Spurrier would say.

Agreement or not is still up for debate and there has been a loud outcry from South Carolina fans of the suspension. The decision is final and defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward has a big decision to make. Who is going to replace Swearinger for one of the key games of the 2012 season?

There are four options right now.

The first is simply to insert Jared Shaw or into the starting spot. Shaw had a sensational spring that caught the eyes of all. Following the Garnet and Black spring game Ward said that they have to get Shaw on the field more this season. So far Shaw has only seen limited action in all three contests behind Swearinger, but could be thrust into action Saturday. Shaw has been looking for a chance to shine since transferring to Carolina from Newberry in 2009 and Saturday could be his only chance to do so.

The second option is to insert freshman T.J. Gurley into the starting line-up. Gurley has seen more action than Shaw this season and is a player that has been compared to Swearinger coming out of high school. Gurley has recorded six tackles in his young career and just missed out on making a name for himself in his very first collegiate game. It was Gurley who blitzed through untouched and laid Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers out as he released the ball on the final fourth down play. Ironically, it was Swearinger that broke up that pass to seal the win for the Gamecocks.

The third option is to move Brison Williams over from strong safety to free safety and insert his back-up, Kadetrix Marcus, into his starting position. Williams has limited action at the free safety position, but can play it. Williams has had a solid start at strong safety since missing the tackle in the opener that resulted in Vanderbilt's touchdown. Williams is fourth on the team in tackles with 12 and has one sack, one interception, and has been credited with one pass break-up. Marcus, like Shaw, has seen action in all three contests, but in a limited role and has yet to record a stat.

The final option is to move spur DeVonte Holloman to Swearinger's spot. Holloman was penciled in as the back-up to Antonio Allen at spur last season, but was quickly moved back to strong safety where he had played his entire career. Holloman and Williams would provide the most experience at safety, but that would leave a hole to fill at spur. Gurley is a guy that could play some at spur, but the likely candidates would be Jordan Diggs and Sharrod Golightly. Diggs has served as Holloman's back-up for the first three games as Golightly served a three-game suspension for a violation of team rules. Diggs, like Gurley, is a freshman that could have made an immediate impact when he arrived on campus. He has played solidly when in for Holloman, recording six tackles with one tackle for loss. Golightly played in the final 12 games of the 2011 season, but mostly as a special teams player. He was expected to be Holloman's back-up entering the season, but his suspension allowed Diggs to move up and they were expected to battle for the back-up spot. For this week they could be battling for the starting spot.

While the loss of Swearinger is going to hurt the secondary there are options for Ward and secondary coach Grady Brown. Each player will bring something different to the table, but most will bring a high level of inexperience. The coaches will likely look at all the players mentioned throughout the week and a final decision may not be made until the end of the week.


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