An Interview With Coach Ron Cooper

Coach Ron Cooper is new to the staff this year as are most of his cornerbacks. And with the Gamecocks traveling to Nashville to face Vanderbilt in the SEC season opener, one of the biggest questions will be how well this young secondary will perform against one of the better quarterbacks in the league ...

Coach Ron Cooper

Coach, you are one of several former head coaches on this staff. Has that helped all of you communicate better? ... knowing what it's like at the top?

"I think so. I think it helps us all to get on and stay on the same page. We know what has to be done so we probably are a little more prone to do things without having to be asked to do them. We understand what is being asked of Coach (Lou Holtz) so we try to do things that we know he needs done without him having to ask us to do them."

The time has come, the first game is on us. How is your secondary looking?

"Well, they're looking pretty good. You never know until they perform in a live game situation but we are looking comfortable right now with the guys we've got.

Who are "the guys" you've got? How many? Are there enough? Are they confident? How have practices gone up until now?

I believe that we really have four corners that can play the game and four safeties that can play. So we're going to rotate them and we're going to stay fresh. It's going to be the first time out for some of them, even the starters, and you always hold your breath when that happens - the first time that they will be called upon to pull the load ... but I am really looking forward to Saturday. Our guys have had great practices all week. They've been executing everything we've asked. I'm at the point where I am sort of just letting them play right now. They are so talented, I just want to let them use their ability and instincts to execute what we have taught them at this stage.

Will you be on the field or in the box?

I'll be in the box instead of down on the field so I'll be able to see how things are going and make corrections from a bird's eye view."

How have they done as a unit overall heading into this opener?

"I am feeling really good about them as a unit. I mean it started off sort of slow this summer but one thing that was immediately evident is that we have some natural ability out there. This is a very talented and capable group of corners and safeties. It didn't take long for them to get in a groove you might say and it has all been going forward since then. There's been a natural progression each week and that's what you want. They have gotten better each and every week. We had a really good week of practice last week and that let me know that we were going to be ready. This week it has been all about polishing and getting them mentally ready for what they are going to face but I think they are - I fully expect them all to play well and to get their jobs done."

Who will start? Tremaine Tyler or Johnathan Joseph?

"Uhhh ... you know what? It's a flip of the coin right now. Both of them will play and both of them will play a lot. We've been running both of them with the first unit. They're both talented. Both of them will play field corner to the wide side of the field but we'll do certain things where we flip them a lot, right and left. But ummm, they're all interchangeable, but those two will sort of be in there backing each other up this Saturday."

What about over at Boundary Corner?

"I'm going to play both Fred Bennett and Taqiy Muhammad. Taqiy deserves to play but Fred will start and play most of the game but Taqiy will definitely play a lot. We're looking forward to those two having big days too."

Your responsibilities, as the secondary coach ... new coach, all new players at corner ... how's that gone? Benefit or liability?

"I think it's been really good because we have not had to unteach the guys things they may have learned last year. The guys have really been good too. They've done everything we've asked. They've worked hard to learn the scheme we put in and I'm really pleased. You know they have learned to communicate, and to be successful in the secondary you have got to have great communication. This week they have really begun to peak and it has made me feel good watching these guys mature and keep coming and keep getting better. So I've told them this week that we've had some of the best practices we've had and I think we are definitely ready to go on Saturday. These guys are ready."

How do you rate this group with others you've had in the past?

"Potentially we have a chance to be real good. 'Potentially' meaning on athletic ability. What we don't have is experience, but you can only get experience when you play. But I think that Fred Bennett can be as good of a corner as I've ever coached or been around. I think Johnathan Joseph has that kind of talent too. I think Tremaine Tyler is what you call as tough as nails. He's the kind of guy that you always hope you have back there who might not be as tall and he might not be as fast but you throw the ball out there and he's going to tackle you and get you down and make you pay for coming his way. You try to take him long and you better bring your lunch because he is going to beat you up out there and you are not going to feel like coming down with it when the ball is thrown your way."

What about your safeties?

"Coach David Reaves has been doing a great job with them back there. He has been a real asset to me and to these players. And let me tell you something. Ko Simpson is a very young but very very talented freshman. I think he has unbelievable talent but he's a freshman. You just never know what they are going to do until you throw them in the fire. But you've got Jermaine Harris back there and Jamacia Jackson and then there is Chris Hampton who is another very very talented freshman like Ko. So we've got two seniors and two freshmen right there at safety so they are going to continue to get better and we feel very comfortable with them going into this game up in Nashville. We feel good about them. They've had good practices all week and we'll just have to see how it goes this Saturday but we do feel very good about them."

Coach Bobby Johnson is going to ask Jay Cutler to try to exploit the inexperience in your secondary. How do you prepare for that? What do you do to get these young guys ready?

"Well, you know I told Ko Simpson the other day as we were walking off the field I said, 'Ko, you know they are going to test you this week now. They're looking on their charts and saying they can take you. They're seeing a freshman and seeing that the last game you played was as a high schooler. They're going to test you in this first SEC game. Most people don't think that a freshman can go do that.' And he said, 'Coach, make sure that you tell me that right before game time Saturday so it gets me ready before I go.' Then that smile of his came across his face lettin' me know that we're ok and that he's going to be fine. All of them are that way really. All of them are confident but not arrogant and I like that about this group. They know what we're asking of them and they do not want to let their teammates down. It's going to be fun I really believe that. This is a special group. I'm ready to put them out there and let them play. So are they. So are they."

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