Spring football recap, storylines: USC secondary

GoGamecocks staff reportsApril 19, 2013 

South Carolina cornerback Jimmy Legree stretches during spring practice.

GERRY MELENDEZ — gmelendez@thestate.com

A review and recap of how South Carolina's cornerbacks and safeties fared this spring (the fourth in a series of positional reviews of the Gamecocks):

Top performers

Jimmy Legree, Kadetrix Marcus

Spring awards

... Most improved defensive back: Kadetrix Marcus

... Everyday Attitude Award-Defense: Victor Hampton

... Outstanding Walk-On-Defense: Sidney Rhodes

Projected depth chart

Cornerback
1-Victor Hampton (RS Jr.)
2-Rico McWilliams (RS Fr.) - OR - Ahmad Christian (RS So.)

Cornerback
1-Jimmy Legree (RS Sr.)
2-Ronnie Martin (Jr.)
3-Sidney Rhodes (Jr.)

Strong safety
1-Brison Williams (Jr.)
2-Chris Moody (RS Fr.) - OR - Kyle Fleetwood (RS Fr.)

Free safety
1-Kadetrix Marcus (RS Jr.)
2-T.J. Gurley (So.)
3-Chaz Elder (RS Fr.)

What we learned

1. Coaches are counting on Hampton

Hampton had one pass breakup in the spring game and, as expected, didn't play much. He will be counted on to lead the Gamecocks' secondary this fall. D.J. Swearinger and Akeem Auguste are gone, and there's youth and inexperience after Hampton and Jimmy Legree on the depth chart. Hampton has been vocal this spring, even chiding wide receivers for drops. He's also penciled in as the favorite to be the team's punt returner.

2. Marcus - for now - is the starter at free safety

When D.J. Swearinger was suspended for a game last year, coaches turned to true freshman T.J. Gurley to fill the spot. A knee injury ended Gurley's season early. This spring, Kadetrix Marcus - aka "J.J." - has performed well enough to be No. 1 on the depth chart, but Gurley will get his shot this summer when he returns from his rehab.

Questions moving forward

1. What about the depth at cornerback?

Hampton and Jimmy Legree are all but locked in as experienced starters. But after that ... er, well. Hampton's current backups - Ahmad Christian (baseball) and Rico McWilliams (injury) - were both out this spring. Ronnie Martin was expected to compete with Legree but wound up missing most of the spring with a hamstring injury. Sidney Rhodes was the only backup corner on the depth chart to perform this entire spring. McWilliams and Martin should be in the mix as backups if both are fully healthy. Safety Chaz Elder could play corner if needed.

2. Will any signees be able to play right away?

USC signee Pharoh Cooper is the most likely to get a look this summer at corner and at punt return. Jasper Sasser and Ali Groves will need to have strong summers if they want to crack the rotation as true freshmen.

They said it

Secondary coach Grady Brown: “There's a lot of good players out there and playing time and opportunities to start won't come easy. You get into situations sometimes as a young player – like Ahmad Christian – he came out to practice and did things the right way but he never expected in a million years that he would play 15-20 plays against Tennessee. When you are a young player, those are the situations you find yourself in.”

Victor Hampton: "Knowing the defense, I can be confident and go play. Now I can be The Bandit out there. I can just be me. I don't want to be a leader if I'm not going to lead by example. I was always confident in my ability to guard anybody out here, but knowing the playbook and knowing everything that's going on with the defense, now I can just play."

Brown on Hampton: “He’s been blessed with a lot of ability, not just being fast. If Vic was a sports car, he’d be a top-of-the-line sports car. He’d go from zero to 60 faster than any other sports car out there. ... I think Vic wants to prove some things to himself. There were some plays he had the opportunity to make last year that he didn’t make. When he watches film from last year, he realizes he left some plays out there. He can be one of those corners here who has the opportunity to go play on the next level.”

Jimmy Legree: “I still have a lot of things to improve on, mainly a bunch of small stuff. I’m not where I need to be, but I think I’m improving every day. As the season went on last year, I gained more confidence in myself.”

Brown on Legree: “Jimmy and I talk about being consistently good. He was really good at times last year, and other times he wasn’t. You don’t want a big drop-off. If you can be a really good player, then your bad should be good. He’s blessed with a lot of ability and he’s played a lot of football. It’s his focus. If you ask him what we’ve talked about, he’ll talk about focusing and being ready to play and compete every time they snap the ball.”

Kadetrix Marcus: “That’s something I focus on, being physical and intimidating receivers. Being physical is a big part of my game. ... I still have a lot to prove. The best man wins the job. I just can’t take any days off right now.”

Lorenzo Ward on Marcus: "J.J. Marcus had a good spring. If J.J. didn't have a good spring, then we probably would have penciled T.J. in as a starter. I think they'll both come back and we'll see who wins the battle in fall camp."

Brown on Chaz Elder: “Chaz is a long guy but he has great bend. He bends his knees and gets in an athletic position. He's blessed with a lot of raw talent to be a really good player. He was coached hard in high school and has proved to be very coachable. I think he'll be a good player here for us at South Carolina. He needs to keep doing what he's doing.”

Brison Williams on being a leader: "I just felt like I wanted to be a leader this year. I'm stepping up from behind D.J's spot. I wanted to show them I had the work ethic and all that to be a leader."

Williams on playing both safety spots: "I feel comfortable with both. I know the playbook really well. I feel really good about it."

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