Defensive Notebook: Swearinger turning heads

Much of the hype surrounding USC's talented freshman class has centered around the defensive trio of cornerback Stephon Gilmore, safety DeVonte Holloman, and Spur Damario Jeffery. However, Assistant Head Coach in charge of Defense Ellis Johnson pointed out another freshman that is expected to make an early impact for the Gamecocks, when he spoke to the media following Sunday's scrimmage.

When Johnson was asked if he was especially excited about any of his new defensive players, he did not list off any of the aforementioned prized recruits. It was a less heralded name that came out of his mouth.

"I think probably the most pleasant surprise for all of us was D.J. Swearinger," Johnson said. "With not having gone through spring practice and all that, he came in and within three to four days he was almost up to speed."

Being that Swearinger wasn't as highly ranked of a recruit as some of his Gamecock teammates coming out of high school, along with the fact that he's playing a position that he has never played before, that led many to believe it would take more time for Swearinger to make his presence felt in Columbia. But according to Johnson, Swearinger's intelligence on the field along with his advanced technique have thoroughly impressed the coaching staff.

"He's a real smart ballplayer," said Johnson of Swearinger. "We didn't know that he could play corner. He can and we were looking for corner depth obviously, so we put him out there and he's played pretty doggone well."

The veteran defensive coach even went so far as to say that, as far as technique goes, Swearinger is perhaps the best cornerback the Gamecocks have.

"As a technician, he's a better cornerback than (Stephon) Gilmore and some of the other guys just because he's played defensive back more than they have," Johnson insisted. "He's just been a real pleasant surprise for us."

When discussing the defense as a whole, Johnson took more of a business-like approach. While his unit has done some good things this preseason, he made it clear that USC's defense still has plenty of work to do in order to be ready for the season opener.

"I think we're a long ways away," said Johnson in response to how close the defense is to being ready to play N.C. State in a little over two weeks. "The biggest thing that our younger players need to improve on is just following their assignments."

Johnson says that the players have to do a better job of making reads and understanding their responsibility on each play without the help of the coaches.

"When we're out there barking at them 5-10 yards away, helping them with checks and things, talent wise they make plays. But when we leave them alone out here on the scrimmage field and try to see what they can handle, we bust a lot of assignments."

The young players' performance in the scrimmage showed they have much to do and learn before the season starts, declared Johnson.

"We've just got to keep pushing these young players. They're improving every day, but this scrimmage proves that they're not ready."

The freshmen knowing their assignments isn't the only thing that Johnson says he's concerned about at this point in time.

"Another thing that we're getting worried about is our defensive line, which should have been one of the cornerstones to build on this season."

Recent injuries and suspensions have put the depth at defensive line into question, Johnson stated.

"With Ladi (Ajiboye) being out for three weeks, we've limited his reps. Now (Nathan) Pepper is out, and Chaz Sutton has hardly a day of practice under his belt this year," Johnson noted. "We had hoped (the defensive line) would be a luxury that we could build around entering this season. We've still got a few things there that we need to be concerned about."

In closing, Johnson stated that at least 5-6 true freshmen will play for the South Carolina defense this season. The young players' ability to know their assignments on each play could play a crucial role on the defensive side of the ball for the Gamecocks in the 2009 season.

"I think that's more (true freshmen) than anyone would want to play in this league. The bright side is you've got to look at the future. The negative thing is, if you think those kids aren't going to make mistakes then you're kidding yourself," he said. "They're going to make mistakes, you just have to try to minimize them and hope they aren't crucial (mistakes)."

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