Cloninger Soundoff: Still time for defense to develop leaders

Posted by DAVID CLONINGER on September 24, 2013 

South Carolina Gamecocks defensive end Chaz Sutton (90) sacks Vanderbilt Commodores quarterback Austyn Carta-Samuels (6) in the first quarter of their game at Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, SC, Saturday, September 14, 2013.

GERRY MELENDEZ — gmelendez@thestate.com

A popular question to South Carolina’s defensive players on Tuesday was about leadership. Specifically, who supplies it?

Jimmy Legree was one answer, as one of two seniors on the defense. Chaz Sutton, the other senior, is another. Jadeveon Clowney, Kelcy Quarles and Victor Hampton also figure in. It’s a mixed bag, each bringing their own style to the table.

As the Gamecocks’ defense has struggled for the first three weeks (or really had the problems showcased against Georgia; the other two games were solid without the Georgia game overshadowing them), some fans have bemoaned the seeming lack of leadership. They’ve all pointed to needing another D.J. Swearinger – even Steve Spurrier said that USC could use another D.J.

D.J. Swearinger is gone. It’s not like USC didn’t know it was going to happen. And I personally think it’s really hard to replace what Swearinger did by pointing to one player and saying, “Do it.”

Let’s be honest here – Swearinger played so aggressively and sometimes recklessly that he committed some rather foolish penalties that could have really hurt the Gamecocks. They never did, which is what ended up making his reputation so golden. Well, that, and the absolute fact that that kid played his tail off for USC, every down, every series, every practice, every game.

USC hasn’t got the big plays from its defense that it thought it would, although Legree certainly seemed on the verge of turning that around with his end-zone interception against Vanderbilt. Swearinger always had a big play at the ready. Thus, 2 and 2 equals 4, in the minds of some.

I’ve always said that leadership has to be taken, not commanded to be taken. It’s a choice, not a genetic pass-down. Could USC use more leadership on defense? Sure. But it could also use just some more making plays.

Youth will grow up. The talent will blossom. Not quite time to say that the defense has no leadership and never will have it.

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