Countdown note: GoGamecocks’ Josh Kendall, David Cloninger and Dwayne McLemore each ranked the 10 players most important to South Carolina’s defense in 2014. We took their predictions, compiled a composite list and are revealing it one player a day through July 2. (This is not a ranking of the team’s best players -- it’s our rank of the players who are most vital to the team’s success.)
7. Chaz Elder
After redshirting in 2012 as a freshman, Chaz Elder last year worked his way into the starting lineup while getting a better handle on his defensive assignments.
“Knowing the plays, that was my biggest challenge on the field. Athletic-wise, I was OK. I’m more comfortable with it,” Elder said.
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The 6-foot-2, 199-pound Elder is the projected starter for the Gamecocks at free safety. His role at free safety may also have to switch between corner and strong, depending on what USC has to do with Brison Williams and the incoming freshman corners.
“He has played fast when he’s been on the field, and he’s made plays and done a good job of tackling and just been aggressive,” defensive backs coach Grady Brown said.
Coaches are counting on his range and athleticism to make an impact again in 2014.
Best-case scenario: Elder takes the next step in his growth and brings experience and consistency to a secondary that is guaranteed to have new faces.
Stats: Made six starts as a redshirt freshman in 2013, logged 29 tackles, including 20 solo stops.