Nix Welcomes High Expectations For 07 Defense
When Steve Spurrier proclaimed that the goal for the Gamecocks this season is to win the SEC Championship, he hinted that an improved defensive unit could play a big role in his team's success. Defensive Coordinator Tyrone Nix takes that as a challenge, realizing that his unit has not played at a championship caliber level the past two seasons.
"What we've done in the past wasn't really that hot," he says, looking back at his first two years. "To compete for a championship we are going to have to play an entirely different brand of defense. The brand we have been playing is not good enough. We've been 9th or so in the conference the last two years. The teams that have won a championship in the SEC have played a whole lot better defense."
Nix is a rising star in the coaching ranks, and he turned down head coaching offers over the winter to come back to the Gamecocks. Most observers think he will land a major gig sooner rather than later. To hear him talk, though, you would think Nix is in danger of landing on the scrap heap. When asked why the defense will be better this year, he mentions a higher talent level, but mainly points the finger at himself.
"It starts with us as coaches," said Nix. "Hopefully I will coach better and call a better game. We are going to be more multiple in a lot of aspects, front-wise and coverage-wise. I think [the key] is calls at the right time."
The reason Nix is taking so much responsibility may be that he finally feels like he has top-level talent throughout the defensive lineup, and even more talent waiting on the sidelines. After scraping together lineups that often had undersized players working out of position, Nix finally has a depth chart to work with. There is so much depth that Ryan Brown, who started much of last season at defensive end, was briefly switched to offense in the spring to see if he could find playing time. The other starter at defensive end, Casper Brinkley, has been shifted to linebacker. Casper will switch back and forth between linebacker and defensive end based on situations and need, which has Nix excited.
"We have a lot of guys fighting for an opportunity to play," he says. "If the guys aren't getting it done, we aren't afraid to pull him out. That's what we'll be able to do at all positions this year. The key is competition. If you have a guy that is waiting his chance, and chomping at the bit to get on the field, that makes the other one perform a little bit better, or you give that next guy a shot. We are going to demand more, and if a guy is not getting it done, you put the next guy in there. Competition alone creates a better performance for the other guys. We have recruited well, and we feel like we have upgraded our talent. With all those things being said, we feel like the guys out there are going to have to produce."
The senior tandem of Casper and Jasper Brinkley is expected to play a key role in USC's defensive success this season.
For a unit that always seemed to be a half step away from making a big play last year, the infusion of talent and athleticism from consecutive strong recruiting classes is expected to make a difference.
"I think you make your own opportunities and make your own breaks. We have worked hard enough that we are going to cash in on some of those opportunities this year. We feel like we have guys that can make plays instead of guys that are in position [but don't make a play]. We feel like we have a lot of guys that can run at all positions. We feel like we are faster than we've been these past three years. Hopefully they will play that way on the field."
Spurrier echoed Nix's excitement about the overall increase in talent. He expects the defense to be much improved this year, in no small part because of the young athletes now on campus. However, Spurrier was careful not to get ahead of himself.
"We think we are going to be better on defense," he said, "but we've got to go play our opponents. We can't get into a false belief that we're really good until we go and shut down Georgia. That will be the first sign. We've got better athletes at a lot of positions, but we've got to go play. The whole team is just potential, that's all we are is potential, until we realize success when the season starts."
Nix is up to the challenge in front of him, and says he shares Spurrier's goal of an SEC Championship.
"Coach doesn't say anything that he doesn't believe, and if he feels like we have the opportunity to win the SEC, then that is what we are going to shoot our goal for. He has seen enough progress in the things we have done talent-wise, with recruiting, that we have a chance when we go to the ballpark just like the other team."
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