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Five Goals for the Off-Season: One, Improved Secondary Play

This post concludes a series on issues confronting the 2011 Gamecocks. Again, these are in no particular order.

In 2010, South Carolina ranked 97th in the nation in pass defense. Think about that for a moment. In 2009, we ranked 8th. In 2008, we ranked 2nd. In 2007, we ranked 4th. Granted, the 2007 and 2008 numbers both came alongside a bad rushing defense, suggesting that our numbers against the pass may have been bolstered by teams' decisions to run the ball against us. That said, these secondaries were undoubtedly good--we posted good pass efficiency numbers in those years, as well, and we placed plenty of players on NFL rosters. Those facts don't lie.

So what happened? How did things get so bad, particularly considering that we played many of the same players we played in 2009? How did we field a secondary that essentially cost us a win to an inferior Kentucky team and embarrassed us many other times? There are three explanations. First of all, losing Darian Stewart to graduation and Shaq Wilson to injury undoubtedly had an effect on the group's chemistry. Stewart and Wilson were leaders who made sure everyone was on the same page, with Wilson supposedly filling Stewart's shoes in 2010. Without a player like this on the team, our secondary oftentimes seemed lost. Our biggest problems, indeed, were seeming confusion regarding what the coverage was, poor communication on swaps, and having players out of position.

Coaching was also lacking. Steve Spurrier made some adjustments to the assistant coaches' assignments, and that may have contributed to the confusion. We learned midway through the season that our safeties and corners were watching film separately, and considering that there were some notable breakdowns in communication between safeties and corners over the course of the season, that was obviously a problem. After we addressed this issue, we seemed to show some progress, although that may have owed to our opponents' (Florida and Clemson) ineptitude. Spurrier has made some additional reassignments to continue to attempt to rectify whatever problems we're experiencing in the coaching department.

The final issue had to do with personnel. While all of our starters were talented and highly rated, we lacked acceptable depth. Marty Markett emerged as a viable backup at corner over the course of the year, but the coaches apparently thought that other backups like Jimmy Legree weren't ready to see the field. Our depth at safety was almost non-existent. This forced us to overwork some players, particularly DeVonte Holloman and Stephon Gilmore. It shouldn't come as a surprise that some of the biggest snafus occurred late in games, when our guys were clearly fatigued.

Will we improve in 2011? Well, first of all, we're going to need to. Georgia and Tennessee both return talented young quarterbacks who will be more seasoned this time around. While it might take Florida a couple of years to truly mature into a great offensive team, their passing game, too, stands to improve as they transition away from the spread option. The good news is that some of our problems should resolve themselves. Wilson returns in 2011, and even without him, I like us to look more to Gilmore and Holloman for leadership now that they're more experienced. Depth should also be better. Victor Hampton will be read to step in after taking a red-shirt year, as will other talented youngsters. The question mark is coaching. Will Spurrier's re-assignments bear fruit? If so, Carolina could have one of the best defenses in the nation to go along with what should be a very good offense. We know the defensive line will be there, particularly if Jadeveon Clowney joins the team. It just remains for the secondary to step back up to the plate.