South Carolina football’s secondary took a beating last season, losing most of its depth to injuries and forcing coach Will Muschamp to play a trio of true freshmen in expanded roles.
A year later, that trio, now sophomores — Jaycee Horn, Israel Mukuamu and R.J. Roderick — are all back and expected to start for the Gamecocks.
But the defensive backs in the class behind them aren’t likely to spend all season on the bench, taking a redshirt and preparing for the future.
Freshmen Jammie Robinson, John Dixon, Cam Smith and Shilo Sanders have all made noise in training camp, and Muschamp went so far as to say after Saturday’s scrimmage that “they’re all going to play for us this year.”
Of the quartet, Robinson has been consistently mentioned by coaches and players alike as putting together an extremely strong camp. And Muschamp seemed to confirm that the former three-star prospect has played his way into an on-field role this year.
“Jammie’s done some really nice things at both safety and nickel, and he’s going to be a really good player for us this year,” Muschamp said.
Sanders, son of the legendary Deion Sanders, has also taken reps at the nickel and safety spots, Muschamp said. Those areas could be especially important considering the number of injuries the Gamecocks suffered there a year ago, as well as sixth-year senior J.T. Ibe’s health issues and redshirt junior Jamel Cook’s inconsistency.
Dixon, another former three-star high schooler, impressed Muschamp specifically with his play in Saturday’s scrimmage.
“John Dixon has been a guy that’s really shown up — had a couple nice knock-downs in the red zone today on two 50/50 balls I thought were played extremely well,” Muschamp said.
Smith, the highest-rated of the four coming into college, “made a couple plays on some balls” in the scrimmage as well, Muschamp said, and has generally been in position on plays, a key metric in the head coach’s eyes.
All in all, though the foursome are still young and developing through the standard freshman growing pains.
“We put a lot on them. We teach everything by concepts. Sometimes they have some good moments and not so good moments,” Muschamp said.
Given Horn, Mukuamu and Roderick’s presence, it seems unlikely that the freshmen will be asked to play large roles early on for USC. But as Muschamp noted, just because fans might not see much of them in Week 1 against North Carolina doesn’t mean they won’t take on more responsibility later in the year, injuries or not.
“This is the hard part, when you get to after this practice and saying, ‘OK, week one, it may not be their best option. But week five, guys, it’s going to be the best option and it’s going to help our football team. So you got to continue to bring those guys along, knowing that eventually that’s going to overtake, as far as (their) ability and talent.”