Jaylin Dickerson was in an unenviable spot with the South Carolina football team.
A year and a half ago, he looked like a strong contender to step in at a thin safety position, possibly as a starter. Then came the shoulder injury that cost him the 2017 season and spring of 2018. His development slowed, he was behind on reps and lifting, and ultimately opened 2018 as the No. 6 or 7 player at his position.
He’ll go into this week as South Carolina’s primary backup at safety.
Injuries have worn depth at the position down to a nub. Dickerson was thrown into the mix against Ole Miss’ high-flying offense as Javon Charleson and Jamyest Williams were lost for the season.
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And for his first real action, he wasn’t bad.
“From an assignment standpoint did a nice job,” Gamecocks coach Will Muschamp said. “That’s always a concern with a young player. How well do they execute their assignment and he did a nice job for the most part of getting in the right spots.”
There was one breakdown, not leveraging the ball correctly to help on a big run and overrunning another play, but considering a safety’s breakdown usually ends with the band playing and an extra point, it was a solid debut.
At 6-foot-1, 191 pounds, Dickerson has the potential to be a rangy, instinctive play-maker back there. In two years, it’s been multiple injuries that held him back. In August, it was a hamstring that cost him 10 days and set him back, but it started the previous year.
“I don’t think people realize how serious an injury that he had with this nerve issue in his shoulder,” Muschamp said. “He had surgery to repair the nerve. He really missed about 10-12 months of lifting. It was something that was very difficult, as much as anything from a confidence standpoint to come back off of, and we’ve kind of eased him in on special teams. And he continues to improve there.”
For the first half of the season, he was mostly limited to those special teams, behind Steven Montac, J.T. Ibe, Jamyest Williams and Nick Harvey, plus Charleston and R.J. Roderick, a freshman who made the jump from special teamer to starter as injuries stuck.
A knee knocked out Ibe, while a concussion has kept Harvey off the field. Then this week’s news about Charleston and Williams further reduced the team’s margin for error.
Now, Montac, Roderick and Dickerson remain, perhaps reinforced by some players moving to new spots. It’s a last chance to Montac, a senior, a first chance for Roderick and a new chance for Dickerson.
In the early going, Dickerson is doing enough to make good on it.
“Nothing’s a lack of effort with him,” Muschamp said. “And nothing’s a lack of wanting to be physical on the field, and that’s why I really enjoy coaching Jaylin. We’ll continue to build on this past performance.”