With a position helmed by youth, struggles were expected. No. 12 South Carolina knew it and expected it. The key to handling it was deciding if improvement was being shown — and if a knee-jerk rotation switch was required after a bad series or bad game.
After three games, though, the time may have come. Defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said a shakeup could be on the horizon.
“Cedrick (Cooper) will be ready,” Ward said on Tuesday. “I think we might move him to Mike linebacker. We probably need help there. We need to get more physical at that spot. We just figure we need to get more productive, be more productive, at the Mike linebacker spot, so we’re going to try different guys.”
Cooper, who has been fighting a dislocated elbow since the first week of fall camp, is ready to play, although he may have to take the field with a bulky brace on his left arm. Considered the linebacker with the most potential, Cooper’s absence has hurt the Gamecocks.
Kaiwan Lewis, who started at middle linebacker against Vanderbilt, and Marcquis Roberts, who started at weakside, are part of a rotation that may not end. Ward said Cooper will be challenging Lewis for a spot against UCF on Sept. 28, and linebackers coach Kirk Botkin agreed.
“It’s a day-by-day deal,” Botkin said. “I tell them every day, if you can beat the guy out in front of you, beat them out. Make the most of when you’re out here at practice.”
The Gamecocks’ defense didn’t play a bad game overall against the Commodores, but were gashed by the Wildcat offense in the second half.
That precipitated at least the thought of a change going into the UCF game. Cooper, in the middle of the field, could help stop the Wildcat if the Knights or any future opponents try it.
“They’ve been good. But again, we’d like to see our Mike linebacker make a lot of plays, and we haven’t got the productivity we feel like we should get,” Ward said. “They’re young guys and they’re going to get better. Kaiwan is still starting, and T.J. (Holloman) is still his backup, but we’re going to get a third guy in the mix.”
Cooper is that guy, since Jonathan Walton is nursing a shoulder injury, sustained when he banged it during the opening kickoff against Vanderbilt. It doesn’t have all the strength in it, Botkin said, so they’re keeping him of practice, but he should be fine to play against UCF.
The Gamecocks must find consistency. They played well against North Carolina, badly against Georgia and OK against Vanderbilt.
“Consistency is probably the biggest thing with the young linebackers,” Botkin said. “First half, I thought they did a really good job. Second half, they started getting their eyes in the wrong place, and started looking at the wrong keys. Can’t do that.”
Marcus explains it all
Kadetrix Marcus, known to all as “J.J.,” explained his nickname.
“It came from my grandma,” Marcus said. “My grandma and my mom made it up. My sister was B.J., and I was J.J.”
Defensive tackle Kelcy Quarles has a sprained neck and was held out of practice as a precaution. He is not expected to miss any game time.
Other players who missed practice or wore yellow jerseys: Walton (shoulder), Cody Waldrop (foot), James King, Devin Washington (concussion) and Mike Matulis (shoulder).
The Gamecocks will practice at 4:15 p.m. on Wednesday. It is closed to the public.
Follow on Twitter at @DCTheState