Stephon Gilmore waited until the final game of the regular season to get his first chance at quarterback last fall.
But there was another part of Gilmore's game he barely displayed - bone-jarring tackles.
Expect to see more of both from Gilmore in 2010.
The freshman cornerback from Rock Hill had a busy day Saturday during the Gamecocks' second spring scrimmage. Gilmore passed for a touchdown, finished as the game's leading rusher and delivered a big hit on his roommate, tailback Jarvis Giles.
After Giles caught a swing pass on fourth-and-goal from the 9-yard line, Gilmore reacted quickly and blasted Giles near the sideline for no gain. It was the kind of play seldom seen last year from Gilmore, who started all 13 games but played tentatively at times while learning Ellis Johnson's defense.
"As a corner I'm going to be more physical this year, knowing where my help is. Getting smarter in the game is going to help me out, too," Gilmore said. "I was a little hesitant sometimes, but now that I know what's going on I can start making plays."
Gilmore was USC's fifth-leading tackler with 56 stops, and his eight pass breakups were second behind Chris Culliver's nine. The Rock Hill native was a member of the SEC's All-Freshman team and was made several Freshman All-American teams.
Gilmore's value to the defense was the main reason USC coach Steve Spurrier did not unveil the "WildCock" formation, with Gilmore at quarterback, until the Clemson game. Gilmore directed a touchdown drive in his only series against the Tigers to help shift momentum in the Gamecocks' 34-17 victory.
Based on how much USC has practiced the WildCock this spring, Gilmore likely will line up under center much sooner this year than he did in 2009. Paired with 6-foot-2, 278-pound defensive tackle Melvin Ingram in the backfield, Gilmore accounted for 50 yards on a 70-yard scoring drive in his only series at quarterback.
"Gilmore got a touchdown out of his stuff, so we're trying to utilize that a little bit more," Spurrier said. "Melvin had one long run. ... Melvin's part of our Gilmore package. He'll be in there running. He's a natural athlete. He's a good player."
Gilmore ran four times for 27 yards, and completed an 18-yard corner route to Dion LeCorn and a 5-yard touchdown throw to Alshon Jeffery. The pass to Jeffery was not the prettiest spiral, but Gilmore said he tried to "put it on the money."
It's tough to critique Gilmore's passing technique too much, considering how seldom he works on it. Cornerback remains his NFL meal ticket.
"I'm focusing on cornerback. That's where I want my future to be," Gilmore said.
Then in the next breath, he added: "I'll do whatever to help the team out."
Ingram said the same thing about his cameos at running back, a position he played in high school in Richmond County, N.C. Ingram broke loose for a 16-yard gain Saturday, then was back at defensive tackle two plays later trying to corral Gilmore.
"We're kind of slim at D-tackle, too," Ingram said. "It's all for the team."
Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.