As a steady drizzle tapered off late Tuesday morning, ninth-ranked South Carolina finished up its 20th practice of fall camp as the countdown to the season opener against Vanderbilt is just nine days away.
The main topic of the day was the same topic as the previous day; injuries. The inexperienced secondary got a lot younger after Akeem Auguste suffered a groin injury that will sideline him for at least a month if not longer.
“I would say we want him back as soon as he’s 100%,” secondary coach Grady Brown said. “With an injury like that you don’t want to come back too early and aggravate it.”
Though it appears to be a devastating blow to the secondary, there is some silver lining in the injury to Auguste. Auguste sat out much of fall camp due to injuries and had only recently returned to the field, meaning that guys like Jimmy Legree, Ahmad Christian, and T.J. Gurley have gotten more reps. When you’re a consensus top ten team in virtually every poll, it means you have quality depth behind your projected starters, even if you’re young.
“Playing on the perimeter is a situation where if you can play, you can play,” Brown said. “It’s not like when you’re playing defensive line banging on guys every play. Perimeter is a game really where if you can run, jump, catch the ball, and know how to cover you can go out there and play. Experience is great, I’m not downplaying that, but if you’re ready to play you can go out there and get it done.”
Legree is the only player in the mix for the starting role that has started at the collegiate level, earning two starts last season, but that was at the free safety position. Legree was replaced by D.J. Swearinger after DeVonte Holloman was moved to the strong safety position because of the strong play of Antonio Allen at Spur. Swearinger will remain at the free safety position and Brison Williams and Kadetrix Marcus are getting looks at strong safety.
All of that allowed Legree to move back to the familiar position he was recruited to play.
“Jimmy certainly has the ability to go in and replace (Auguste) and make plays for us,” Brown said. “Jimmy is long, he has long arms and good hips. You can’t teach length and hips. He’s overall a good football player.”
Legree appears to be the favorite for earning the starting spot at field corner, but it’s not a given.
“I wouldn’t say anything is locked in,” Brown said. “It’s a strong competition. Ahmad can go play that position, Jared Shaw can play it, T.J. Gurley can play it, Chaz Elder has gotten much better the last two days. There’s some good competition for that spot.”
Christian, who continues to take reps behind Victor Hampton at boundary corner, could move over if need be, Gurley has moved over from safety, and Chaz Elder has been making plays in practice recently.
“It’s really about who is playing best at that particular time,” Brown said. “Jimmy has obviously played a lot of football for us around here, and he’s done a good job so far in training camp making some plays. Ahmad has a lot of talent as well and is coming back from an injury so we’ll look at getting him some reps. T.J. Gurley is a young guy that is doing a good job. He has a lot of ability; good hips and good feet work. You always hear me talk about developing players and this is a prime example as to why you have to have as many players as possible ready.”
Shaw, who made a name for himself in spring practice, has flown under the radar again in the fall but could end up seeing some significant playing time. He can play anywhere in the secondary.
“Jared Shaw is a guy that is going to be hard to keep him off the field,” When he’s on the field he normally makes play.”
While somebody will be making their debut at cornerback next Thursday at field corner, boundary corner has been locked down by Victor Hampton, a shutdown corner.
“His role has always been important,” Brown said. “I don’t think the level has increased since Akeem has been out, but Victor is doing a good job. He’s a really good football player and has a high football IQ. He comes to practice to work every day and we expect him to play a big part in our success.”
Regardless of who earns the start and significant playing time next Thursday at Vanderbilt, the loss of Auguste will hurt bad, but there’s enough talent to overcome it.
“I think we have enough good players to where we’ll be okay,” Brown said. “We’ll miss Akeem but we’ll be okay and get some guys ready to play.”