USC Gamecocks Football

He’s a hard hitter for the Gamecocks. How coaches are trying him at a new spot

Gamecocks have ‘a lot more depth’ at safety for 2019, RJ Roderick says

South Carolina football defensive back R.J. Roderick talks about what he learned as a freshman from Steven Montac and what he thinks the Gamecocks can be at the safety position for the 2019 season now that USC's injuries have healed.
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South Carolina football defensive back R.J. Roderick talks about what he learned as a freshman from Steven Montac and what he thinks the Gamecocks can be at the safety position for the 2019 season now that USC's injuries have healed.

South Carolina football found a piece for its secondary in safety R.J. Roderick last season.

But now they might want to play him elsewhere.

The well-built former option quarterback has been getting some turns at nickel this spring, as the Gamecocks are short bodies in the secondary. He offers a different look than USC has used in recent seasons, and he seems to be taking to the position.

“He looks good,” corner and last year’s starting nickel Jaycee Horn said. “He plays fast. He’s real physical, and what most people don’t know is, he’s really smart. RJ’s really smart. So he picked it up quick.”

In three seasons, South Carolina has attacked that position in different ways.

2016: The Gamecocks tried a few different options, by the end rotating Chris Lammons, the top cover man, with former linebacker Antoine Wilder when more strength was needed.

2017: At 5-foot-8, 175 pounds, Jamyest Williams held down the position with mixed results. He was often spelled by Lammons, who had since moved to safety.

2018: 6-foot-1, 195-pound Jaycee Horn filled in at the position when healthy. Starting corner Rashad Fenton and safety Steven Montac also got shots at it when depth was an issue.

Horn was probably the most stout of the players who got big workloads there, and he was only a freshman corner. Roderick is a well-built, 6-foot, 200-pound safety with a knack as a hitter and some comfort with what the new job asks of him.

The Gamecocks usually start two outside corners, a pair of interchangeable deep safeties and a nickel, who covers slot receivers and plays inside, closer to the box. As offenses have shifted to looks with three or more receivers, nickels have replaced third linebackers as de facto starters.

“I like playing close to the box anyway,” Roderick said. “So just being at nickel, I’ll be closer down to the box.”

That’s part of what the staff wants from him, as the nickel spot offers a point of weakness in the run game.

Opponents will either force nickels to come up in run support, often blocking bigger players, or get them locked with linemen on screens. Those were particular areas USC needed to improve off last year’s defensive struggles.

There’s a bit of whirlwind factor with all of this for Roderick. He came to Columbia having barely played safety. Instead, he was an option quarterback in high school but had the build, speed and instincts that Will Muschamp thought he could make the change.

Roderick mostly played special teams early last fall, then came on enough to earn a role on defense after the off week and ended up starting five games at and making 47 tackles in the final six games.

He looked like a future fixture at safety, but the current defensive staff often likes to move players around. Roderick is getting plenty of work at the new position, but that’s not where he’s making the most ground.

“I’ve gotten nickel reps a lot, but I really feel like the meeting room is what’s going to help me the most at nickel,” Roderick said. “Once I learn what it is, just being able to transition that to the field, it shouldn’t be too big of a problem.”

He said the position requires covering the flax/hook areas and playing man coverage, some things he did at safety.

He also has a resource in Horn, who played the position and could well play it again if the depth at safety doesn’t materialize. But one sophomore isn’t trying to rely too heavily on the other.

“Our defensive is all in a certain family,” Horn said. “So if you learn one position, you really know all of them. So he really doesn’t lean on me for too much help. I try to give him as much advice as I can.”

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