The biggest question mark coming out of the South Carolina spring practice is who will start at cornerback when the Gamecocks open the season against Texas A&M on Aug. 28.
It’s possible at least one starter is not on campus yet. But defensive back coach Grady Brown said he liked what his thin, inexperienced group was able to accomplish in 15 spring practices.
“I believe the guys have come out and tried to do the best that they can do to get better every day,” Brown said. “We’ve not always accomplished that, but the guys have showed up with good attitudes and tried to put forth the effort to get better every day. That’s what it’s all about. We’ve seen guys become a little bit better than they were the first day of practice, and that’s important.”
Brown is not close to naming starters. There was one thing he guaranteed.
“We’ll put the best four players on the field,” Brown said. “That’s what we’ll always try to do. Whatever position or whatever combination that may be, that’s the only way we can play good, solid football is to play our best players.”
South Carolina lost starting corners Victor Hampton and Jimmy Legree. Hampton elected to forego his senior season with hopes of the NFL, and Legree graduated. Ahmad Christian transferred mid-season, and Ronnie Martin has left the program since the end of the season.
Ali Groves, Jamari Smith, Rico McWilliams and Sidney Rhodes are the only corners on the roster. Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward and Brown hoped somebody would step up out of the group to grasp at least one starting position, but it’s too early to tell if that happened.
McWilliams and Groves missed time with injuries, and the others struggled.
“Some of these guys, it may be their only opportunity to play in Williams-Brice Stadium,” Brown said before the spring game. “We had some guys come out this spring that really tried to do the job the right way, so you want to reward those guys. Hopefully, they will continue to develop over the summer and be able to help us in the fall.”
That leaves room for incoming freshmen Wesley Green, Al Harris Jr., Chris Lammons, D.J Smith and Darin Smalls to make an immediate impact in the fall. All five will be on the fast track when they arrive on campus this summer.
“I think we’ll have 11 guys that we can put on the field and play together as a unit,” Ward said. “When you get 11 guys that can play as a unit, I think we’ll be OK. It doesn’t matter their experience level.”
One wild card is starting safety Brison Williams. He logged time at corner this spring, and he could be an option. Williams earned the most improved cornerback award for the spring despite never playing that position for the Gamecocks. He started the spring game at one of the corner spots alongside McWilliams.
“He’s done a good job of being a team player and playing where we needed him,” Brown said of Williams. “It’s a pleasure to coach a guy like Brison. We have to keep pushing him to try and get better.”
Brown said he is hopeful he can field a secondary that is as successful as or better than last season’s class.
“We can’t focus on what we lost,” Brown said. “We tried to focus on what we had an opportunity to gain. We didn’t talk about injuries. We just tried to have productive meetings every day and productive individual workouts. Now we have to carry that on to the 7-on-7 and team functions in practice.”