Since the beginning of spring practice, D.J. Swearinger has drawn the praise of assistant head coach Ellis Johnson.
That continued after the Garnet and Black game Saturday afternoon at Williams-Brice Stadium.
"D.J. has brought a punch," Johnson said. "He has been the most obvious hitter out there. Day in and day out, D.J. is about the only one out there that pops like an SEC football player."
Swearinger moved from his natural safety position - where he played at Greenwood High - and switched to corner as a true freshman at USC. He played in all 13 games and had 19 tackles, including 13 solo stops.
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He made the move because he didn't want to redshirt after spurning Tennessee and signing with the Gamecocks after a stellar high school career.
"When I got here, coach (Lorenzo) Ward moved me to corner," Swearinger said. "So I gave it a shot and tried to do what I could do. It gave me a lot of confidence."
But he has moved back to free safety this spring. With his performance in all 15 practices, he is challenging Akeem Auguste for the starting job. He was credited with two tackles in the spring game and had one of the highlights with a bone-jarring hit on Bryce Sherman in the first half.
Johnson said Swearinger has made more strides than anyone on defense.
"He had as much improvement as any one player during the course of the spring," Johnson said. "I think he is pushing Akeem Auguste for his job."
The main reasons for the move is Swearinger's size - he is up to 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds - and the physical style he plays.
"I made a lot of progress moving back to safety," Swearinger said. "I feel comfortable at safety, because I played my whole career in high school at safety."
Auguste and Swearinger are similar in some ways. They both play physical and are aggressive in their approach. The two biggest differences: Auguste is lighter (186 pounds) and shorter (5-10) than Swearinger.
But Auguste, a junior, has more experience.
"Akeem has better cover skills and maybe more knowledgeable," Johnson said. "That is one of the things that we have to talk about. Who is the best 6 to 8 players back there?"
Stephon Gilmore, who started all 13 games at corner as a freshman, said he has seen the progression of Swearinger. Since Swearinger has played both safety and corner, he has a better understanding of the defense.
Gilmore also believes Swearinger will bring a more physical style that the defense sometimes a year ago.
"Personally I think D.J. is the most gifted tackler on the team," Gilmore said. "I think he's the most improved player. I knew safety was his natural position, but he just wanted to get on the field last year. He's going to play hard every play so I'm not worried about him. We all need to play like him."