On early national signing day of 2017, South Carolina coach Will Muschamp surprised some when he revealed 6-foot-4 Israel Mukuamu would not be playing safety, the spot his build trends toward, but instead had the talent to play cornerback at that size.
A year later, Muschamp was asked if Mukuamu might move, especially in light of a season where the Gamecocks flat out fell apart at safety. He said there was no plan to do so.
But with a slight caveat.
“He is a guy that can play safety,” Muschamp said. “He played safety today at practice. I’ll go back and say, it’s about getting the best four, the best five and if you’re going to play six, the best six guys. He gives you a lot of position variety.”
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In 2019, who those guys are will create some questions. In the bowl game, he was a corner, as South Carolina’s depth was stripped away by injuries.
But Mukuamu also started at safety in South Carolina’s final regular season game, and USC will have a range of questions going into next season. Fenton, Nixon and Montac are gone. Freshman R.J. Roderick returns, as does Horn. USC will get tall corner Jamel Cook off a transfer season, and whichever freshmen they sign, including four-star Cam Smith. Pending some medical redshirt decisions, the team could have all five safeties that missed serious time back. Granted, all five, four of them veterans, struggled a good bit.
And Mukuamu might be an answer there.
“He’s very intelligent,” Muschamp said. “He’s a willing tackler. He can play the ball down the field. He has man and zone instincts.”
This season, he had 12 tackles, one interception and one forced fumble in limited work. He matched up with Clemson’s Tee Higgins in the latter portion of that game, and Muschamp praised his work against that talented receiver.
So for the moment, a move isn’t coming, but that doesn’t lock him in at any one spot.
“If his best position is at safety that day, then sure, we’ll play him at safety,” Muschamp said.”But right now, we feel very comfortable with the job he’s done at corner.”