The logjam at free safety will eventually work itself out and Chaz Elder is trying to do everything in his power to stand out.
The redshirt freshman from Union City, Ga., has focused exclusively at free safety this spring after bouncing between safety and cornerback last season. He played both in his stellar high school career and being able to focus on one position the past several weeks has made him more comfortable in the role.
“It's been good so far but I'm still learning,” Elder said after a recent practice. “Making all the checks and seeing the formations has been the biggest adjustment. Moving to just safety was a better opportunity to get on the field. I wasn't too mad about the move.”
Kadetrix Marcus is set to take over the starting role for D.J. Swearinger – the unquestioned heart, soul and vocal leader from a season ago. T.J. Gurley is out this spring after he suffered a knee injury last year and that has allowed a trio of redshirt freshmen – Elder, Kyle Fleetwood and Chris Moody – to fight their way into the mix.
It's a jumble now. When Gurley returns – he was named to the SEC All-Freshman Team despite playing in only eight games – that will mean less reps for guys lower on the depth chart.
Defensive back coach Grady Brown believes it's too early to make that decision but he did promise that the best four players would be in the lineup against North Carolina on August 29. He said Elder is a candidate for playing time, but that there are only so many snaps.
Brown pointed to Ahmad Christian from last year as an example of a young player that needs to seize the opportunity. Christian practiced hard but look overwhelmed on several plays when he played unexpectedly against Tennessee.
“There's a lot of good players out there and playing time and opportunities to start won't come easy,” Brown said. “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. Chaz has to understand he needs to prepare because when he gets that opportunity, he has to get in and take advantage. If you don't, you can't promise yourself when the next chance will come.”
Elder said playing in the middle of the field is fine with him. “When I started making the checks and seeing the formations quicker is when I knew I was settling in,” he said. “Just getting comfortable in knowing what to do.”
His size athleticism will be a key if Elder, who at 6-2, 194 pounds is one of the bigger players vying for playing time in the secondary, can crack the two-deep in the fall.
“Chaz is a long guy but he has great bend,” Brown said. “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.”