Freshman cornerback Vic Hampton’s debut has been postponed again.
Head coach Steve Spurrier said last month that Hampton would miss the first game of the season for “academic reasons.” However, defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward revealed Thursday that Hampton actually will miss the first three games, meaning he won’t play against East Carolina, Georgia or Navy.
In Hampton’s absence, Marty Markett will be South Carolina’s fourth cornerback, Ward said. Gilmore, Akeem Auguste and C.C. Whitlock will be the top three cornerbacks in the rotation.
Ward expects Auguste to return from a left foot injury as early as the start of next week, he said. Auguste has yet to practice this fall.
“Akeem has been around here a long time,” Ward said. “He understands what we’re doing. If he can get back here and get in playing shape in two weeks, we’ll be fine.”
GILMORE OUT FRONT
Junior Stephon Gilmore is the leading candidate to start the season as punt returner, special teams coach John Butler said. Gilmore lost the job last year to Ace Sanders, but Butler likes Gilmore’s experience at the position.
“You need more experience catching punts than you do kickoffs. Kickoffs you have time. With a punt, you have somebody in your face right away,” Butler said. “Guys that have experience are going to be the guys we put out there early.”
Sanders and freshman Damiere Byrd are getting a lot of work at the position in practice, Butler said. Butler will audition Auguste for the job when Auguste returns next week, he said.
“I have been excited about our return game, both kickoff and punt return,” Butler said. “I think we’re going to have some opportunities.”
CLOSING UP SHOP
Friday will be the final open practice of the preseason, Spurrier said Thursday. Saturday’s scrimmage and all subsequent practices will be closed unless Spurrier changes his mind, which he did in opening up the first two weeks to the fans and the media.
“There is too much reporting by you guys of everything that happens, so we’re going to start closing up practices starting Saturday,” Spurrier said.
The Gamecocks still don’t have a guaranteed starting quarterback, Spurrier insisted Thursday. Senior Stephen Garcia has started 28 straight games and 30 overall for the Gamecocks and has looked sharper this fall than sophomore Connor Shaw.
“Connor was just as good as Stephen today,” Spurrier said. “Stephen I think has played a little bit better most of the scrimmages thus far this year.”
The Gamecocks had almost an hour of scrimmage snaps in Thursday morning’s practice, their ninth of the season. Freshmen wide receivers Byrd and K.J. Brent continued to shine.
“K.J. is a good catcher,” Spurrier said. “He’s a natural. He reminds me of Chris Doering a little bit, a kid we had at Florida, sort of tall, lanky guy that just catches everything and knows where he is supposed to be. Right now, he’s in the mix for the top five or six receivers.”
Junior wide receiver D.L. Moore sat out Thursday after suffering a mild shoulder sprain earlier this week. He is expected to miss two to three days, Spurrier said. Freshman offensive tackle Cody Gibson could be out another two or three weeks after suffering a dislocated kneecap, Spurrier said.
“I don’t know what they said, two or three weeks, something like that,” Spurrier said. “He may be back in a couple weeks.”
Freshman defensive back Sheldon Royster was back in a yellow, no-contact jersey Thursday after aggravating a shoulder injury. Junior Jared Shaw is out with an undisclosed injury.
Freshman Kadetrix Marcus was moved from cornerback to spur for Thursday’s practice, and freshman Mason Harris was moved from spur to linebacker, Butler said.
“We are just trying to get the best 11 guys on the field and then find the best capable backups,” Butler said.
Thursday practice highlights