Josh Kendall

If you can’t run fast, you can’t play for the South Carolina defense

When South Carolina head coach Will Muschamp and the Gamecocks defensive coaches recruiting Sherrod Greene out of Rocky Mount, N.C., they made one thing perfectly clear.

“Just having the ability to run sideline to sideline and make plays in the open field was something they said they really needed,” said Greene, now a sophomore linebacker at South Carolina. “I’m just glad they chose me to fill that role for them.”

They found some other fast players, too, that much has been evident to the Gamecocks veterans thus far in spring practice.

“The team speed of our team is just crazy,” senior linebacker Bryson Allen-Williams said. “I was talking to the some of the older guys who left this year, just looking at our spring roster from two years ago compared to now, it’s night and day just seeing the team speed we have, how physical we are at the point of attack.”

When Muschamp took over Steve Spurrier’s program two years ago, he identified defensive speed as one of its key deficiencies. With spread offenses sweeping the nation, the Gamecocks found in the early part of the 2010s that they simply couldn’t keep up any longer on defense.

“Every offseason we have definitely worked on speed work but just seeing the guys that the coaches have brought in now, everybody is fast,” junior linebacker T.J. Brunson said. “If you can’t run, you can’t play. It’s improved a lot.”

The idea of a faster defense is more than just a feeling the players have. Muschamp said before spring practice that the data the team compiles in its offseason program from its Catapult GPS system backs up the notion with facts.

“You look at the Catapult numbers and the change of direction and our speed has improved in the last two years tremendously,” he said. “I think a lot of that is due to recruiting, but I also think our strength staff does an outstanding job. I like where our team is at this point.”

South Carolina finished the 2017 season seventh in total defense, allowing 367.1 yards per game. The newcomers not only bring more actual speed but a renewed enthusiasm, cornerback Rashad Fenton said.

“I definitely feel like the team we have now, we definitely are flying around a lot,” Fenton said. “Since it’s such a young team, they have a lot of energy and are very upbeat so just that motor and that energy they bring it seems like it is a faster team.”

The difference has been very noticeable in the team’s kicking games, special teams coordinator Coleman Hutzler said.

“If you look at our roster over the last two years, that’s one of the biggest improvements we’ve made is really flipping the team speed,” Hutzler said. “Those things really show up in those units.”