South Carolina defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson took an unusual stance on his team’s lack of proven safety depth in spring practice.
“It’s good,” Robinson said.
Good or not, his staff took the step of adding an experienced hand in Rice graduate transfer J.T. Ibe on Saturday. At the moment, the Gamecocks have five scholarship safeties, two who’ve played in college games, one a former walk-on.
USC is set to add one more freshman in Jonathan Gipson, and Robinson said nickel Jamyest Williams could see some time at safety. (He did a little of that last year, and his speed would let him cover a lot of ground.) But Ibe adds a solid presence and makes it less vital that at least two of those other players have to take a big step forward.
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Ibe recorded 42 tackles in nine starts last season. He expects to be in the mix for Will Muschamp’s Gamecocks next season as he moves up from the mid-major level.
“I talked to coach Muschamp and I talked to Travaris Robinson,” Ibe said. “ (Muschamp) said I’m a player with experience and I can come in, if I’m better than the guys, and come in and play right away. He feels like they are trying to win an SEC championship and they need to do that right away.”
The set of players he’s joining has potential, but not much has been proven:
▪ Steven Montac – A late add before the 2016 season, he’s played every secondary spot and showed uncommon week-to-week flexibility (plus he’s been a better hitter than his 5-foot-10, 188-pound build would suggest). He’s the top candidate to start, and even if he doesn’t, he’ll be in the mix.
▪ Javon Charleston – A former walk-on wide receiver, he was primarily a special teams player who got in for only a few snaps outside of blowouts.
▪ Jaylin Dickerson – Were it not for a season-ending nerve injury in his shoulder, the 6-foot-1, 192-pounder might’ve started last season. He’s still in a yellow non-contact jersey this spring and was getting some work at nickel in the team’s first practice.
▪ Zay Brown – A 5-foot-11, 198-pound redshirt freshman from Georgia who had some reputation as a hitter.
▪ R.J. Roderick – Still very new to the position, Roderick played quarterback for most of his high school career. The early enrollee certainly looks the part at a well-built 6-foot, 210 pounds and he’s quick. Between learning the defense and the lingering specter of a stress fracture in his back last season, any contributions are far from guaranteed.
▪ Jonathan Gipson – At 6-foot-2, 182 pounds, he was rated as a four-star prospect by one recruiting service. He was a ball hawk as a senior in high school, but what that means when he enrolls in the summer remains to be seen.
Robinson and USC have been good at living with less in the secondary, often playing as few as five or six players for whole games at the five spots. Last year the team had to move corner Chris Lammons to safety after the Dickerson news and an injury dogged Montac early.
Throwing Ibe into the mix eases some things.
Montac likely factors into the rotation no matter what. All indications are the staff is high on Dickerson. If nothing else, Ibe provides a measure of insurance with his health (and likely means Charleston isn’t the first safety off the bench no matter who starts).
The addition also eases the pressure on whoever starts to play a large number of snaps, and lessens the chances a freshman is thrown in before he’s ready.
For now in spring, the Gamecocks are rolling with five scholarship players for the two spots (give or take Williams working there and some cross-training at nickel), and Robinson said he likes it that way.
“The one thing I like is competition,” Robinson said. “So a lot of guys getting reps. We don’t have guys watching. Everyone is participating. We’ll get a chance to see if the guys can help us in fall. I think it’s a really good deal for our guys.
“Everybody’s getting an equal amount of reps and they’re getting a chance to show what they can do.”