Looking for consistency

Sharrod Golightly returns an interception.

Ellis Johnson is no stranger to making Spring-time position moves. And he made another one this year when he moved Devonte Holloman to SPUR and Damario Jeffery to weakside linebacker. The Gamecocks think their overall defense can be better that way, but they'll need young players to step up at the boundary safety position.

Since arriving at South Carolina Ellis Johnson has always used the Spring to make any major position moves necessary to try and get his best 11 players on the field at the same time.

Whether it was switching to a 4-2-5 base defense to get Chris Culliver, Emanuel Cook and Darian Stewart on the field at the same time, or moving eventual USC career sack leader Eric Norwood from defensive end to linebacker, the Gamecocks' defensive head-man has shown he's not scared to make major changes to his defense.

The 2011 spring has been no different.

A few days before camp opened, Johnson decided to pull the trigger on a move that he had been contemplating for some time: former starting boundary safety Devonte Holloman moved to the SPUR linebacker spot and Damario Jeffery, who split time with Antonio Allen at SPUR last year, made the move to weakside linebacker.

So far, so good for those two moves. Jeffery quickly moved into a first-string role and Holloman has looked incredibly comfortable in as the senior Allen's back-up.

"I don't think there's any question that (Jeffery's) in the right place as far as helping us and helping himself," Johnson said. "So, if he'll keep making progress I'll be very pleased with it."

That leaves one major question for Johnson and the other defensive coaches: who's going to step up at boundary safety?

Redshirt sophomore Corey Addison seemed like the one set to benefit the most from the move. But, as has been the case several other times in his career, he has been slowed by an ill-timed injury for much of the spring.


Freshman Brison Williams works with new safeties coach Jeep Hunter. Hunter previously worked with the tight ends.
That has left true freshman early enrollee Brison Williams and redshirt freshman Sharrod Golightly jockeying for position.

"For all of them young ones 'consistency' is probably the code word," Johnson said early in camp.

And it's been an up-and-down march towards that as the growing pains of young players trying to find their way at this level has been evident.

Johnson wasn't happy after USC's most recent scrimmage.

"The young safeties aren't making any progress," he said at the time. "They had a lot of busted coverages, run fits, and coach is having to make checks for them every play and get them lined up. They just haven't made the progress in eight practices that we need them to make."

But after going over the film and correcting some of those mistakes, Johnson was much more positive just one practice later.

"Brison's coming along. I thought he had a pretty good day today," he said Tuesday. "... I think if we had to play with one of those guys out back tomorrow, had to play with him, I think it'd be Brison.

"But the others are really getting better [too]. Golightly had a good day today and improved, and fixed some of the things he did wrong (in the scrimmage). They came along a little bit today. Some of the things they did Saturday that were very disappointing, they got them cleaned up today pretty well."

Jeep Hunter is now in charge of helping them continue to improve. Hunter moved over to coach the safeties after coaching the tight ends his first two years at South Carolina.

"Right now we have a very good competition at the boundary safety position," Hunter says. "We have Brison Williams who is playing well for us right now at times. We have Sharrod Golightly who's playing well for us at times. The key to it is can they play good consistently? Right now they've had some good, some bad and some ugly.

"They've done well. We're pleased with where they're at, but we'd like to see them do better."

With D.J. Swearinger penciled in as a starter at the free or field safety position, that position isn't as unsettled. But finding a capable back-up has been another top priority for Johnson.

Freshman early enrollee Martay Mattox has been a surprise there. After working out at cornerback the first two practices, he moved over and quickly grabbed the coaches' attention.

"He just seems a little more natural doing some things we're asking him to do in coverage, run support, angles to the ball, tackling," Johnson said after the team's first scrimmage, just Mattox's second day at the position. "For a kid that played quarterback the whole time for his high school he really has been a pleasant surprise for us."

He's "real smart and athletic," defensive coordinator Lorenzo Ward said. "We moved him from corner to safety because he has a long stride and can cover some field."

Johnson has pointed out that further positions moves between the boundary safety and field safety positions are always possible. Golightly actually started the spring at field before sliding over after the emergence of Mattox and the injury to Addison.

The one move Johnson doesn't seem to want to make is sliding Holloman back up to boundary safety and Jeffery back out to SPUR.

"It won't be for a long time," he says. "We feel like if we ever have to make that move back, (Holloman) could make it and be ready to roll in a couple of days. If we make that move it won't be before next Fall, if it's ever made."

At that time, he should have more bodies to work with when highly regarded safety prospects Sheldon Royster and Kadetrix Marcus arrive on campus.

"The whole reason we're moving (Holloman) is he's a better player up in that area [at SPUR], and hopefully we'll have some young players come along in the secondary that we can keep that move on."

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