The challenge ahead of Jamyest Williams is significant.
The sophomore on South Carolina’s football team is moving to a position he hasn’t played in years. Safety isn’t all that unlike corner, but there are changes, especially after a season in which he was both precocious and felt the sting of learning on the job with all eyes on him.
And yet, as he looks toward a different task, he’s focused on the small things and one particular aspect of what his coaches want.
“Just got to have great days day in and day out,” Williams said. “Coach (Will) Muschamp said that he really wants our safeties and our Mike linebackers to be our vocal standpoint of the defense. I feel like I can really be that.”
He was the crown jewel of Muschamp’s first recruiting class out of Grayson High School in Georgia. He became the starting slot corner his first game. In his second, he made an exceedingly difficult play to help swing things for the Gamecocks.
But the rest of the first season wasn’t that easy. Standing at 5-foot-9, some opponents could work him into unfavorable matchups. There were several big 1-on-1 battles he lost, and he once had a goal line miscue that earned him one of the more vicious Muschamp glares you will see (plus a benching for most of the rest of the game).
All told, 38 tackles and a pair of interceptions in 11 games is a solid start for most freshmen. Williams wanted more.
“I feel like I could’ve had a better season than I had,” Williams said. “It was a few freshman mistakes that I made while being out there.
“In the SEC, I realized, it’s going to happen. Everybody’s going to have their up and down plays.”
His season ended with a shoulder injury, one that cost him spring practice. It was during spring the coaches came to him with a proposition. He’s been a corner through his high school career, and while his athleticism was a boon in the slot, his size presented challenges.
So how about safety?
He said “yes, sir” and got to work learning it.
“He has really good instincts in man and zone,” Muschamp said. “He has a tremendous work ethic. He is extremely bright, and he works really well in everything that he does. He has improved his communications skills, and that has got to be critical for you in the safety position because we have to be locked in back there as far as the other safety is concerned, and the nickel and the corners have to have a lot of communication with our linebackers. We put an awful amount on our Mike and both of our safeties.”
In open portions of practice, he’s been working with the top group of safeties. Grad transfer J.T. Ibe hadn’t been healthy enough to go yet, and starter Steven Montac was sidelined Tuesday, but it’s worth noting how quickly a player who was unfamiliar with the spot could get to that point.
His coaches said he’s coming to extra meetings to get a better feel for the position, and it’s paid off in a few ways.
“He’s doing well,” defensive coordinator Travaris Robinson said. “Obviously, he had some familiarity with what we’re doing. So he obviously understands some of the things we’re asking him to do back there, but it’s just little stuff, nuances of the position, playing in the deep part of the field when the ball comes.”
The coach noted he doesn’t yet have the natural instincts working in an unfamiliar spot, but those will come with time and work.
The Gamecocks are replacing a pair of senior safeties in D.J. Smith and Chris Lammons (both former cornerbacks). Montac is a player USC’s coaches trust, but there isn’t another player who is practicing and has taken real snaps as safety at USC in a game.
With his speed, ability to cover ground and knack for getting to the ball, Williams has the potential to do a lot at safety. But he’s still playing catch up.
He didn’t get to go in the spring owing to shoulder surgery. So he had to sit, wait and watch. But to him, that’s as much a part of playing his new spot as anything else.
“Everything is mental and film and meeting with the coaches,” Williams said. “Just learning, getting in with people to do more. Learning the whole defense. Learning the concepts of the defense, and also just going out there a little bit, walking through it with your teammates.”