From the beginning of South Carolina’s 2012 season, when he was suspended for a helmet-to-helmet hit on UAB wide receiver Patrick Hearn, until the end, when he stood menacingly above fallen Clemson running back Andre Ellington, D.J. Swearinger provided the punch in South Carolina’s defense.
That swagger is now in Houston, where Swearinger plays in the NFL, and Victor Hampton, Jimmy Legree, Brison Williams and Kadetrix Marcus are in the process of dividing Swearinger’s responsibilities that go beyond the stats sheet, where he was the Gamecocks’ second-leading tackler with 79 stops and leader in pass breakups with seven.
“Communication is the best thing on the field, and D.J. was one of those guys that kept it going and got us (fired) up,” redshirt freshman safety Chaz Elder said. “If a big play happened on us, D.J. kept us up.”
Swearinger communicated with both teams, casting an imposing and fast-talking shadow across the back of South Carolina’s defense while also making the secondary calls for his teammates and boosting their spirits when needed.
“If a bad play happens, we need some motivation, somebody to help pull us through,” said Legree, a projected starter at cornerback.
While it’s not required to replace Swearinger’s smack talk, according to defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward, it is crucial to have someone who will communicate to his own teammates.
“Ed Reed never talked, but he was a great leader for Baltimore,” Ward said. “I don’t think you have to have a guy who is going to talk junk. I think you need a guy who is going to talk and communicate to help people get lined up.”
That role has fallen to Williams, a junior who is expected to start at free safety and the most experienced member of the secondary with 13 career starts.
“Brison is doing a great job of that,” Ward said. “He’s being a quarterback back there and getting them lined up. He’s been around and played a lot of football.”
Hampton, a junior cornerback with 12 starts, is the inspirational leader of the group, Legree and Elder said.
“It’s not just one person,” Williams said. “Me, Vic and Jimmy are all trying to take part of the leadership and help all the young guys together. We are not trying to be like D.J. All of us are just trying to talk and help each other out.”
Marcus is tentatively auditioning for Swearinger’s role as instigator, Ward said.
“I told J.J. he likes to start mess and then he gets away from it,” Ward said. “We have two guys (Williams and Legree) that don’t do a lot of talking and two guys (Hampton and Marcus) that like to run their trap so we’ve got a mix.”
“As long as they play good,” he added, “that’s all that makes a difference to me.”