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South Carolina’s secondary needs to take a big step forward in 2016

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With a mix of veterans and strong incoming talent, coupled with a new coaching staff, all eyes will be on this unit.

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Stephon Gilmore. D.J. Swearinger. Jonathan Joseph. Captain Munnerlyn. These stellar players are just a few members of the rich history of talented Gamecock secondaries. For several years, our secondary was teeming with NFL talent, ripe for the pick(six)ing. But recent hard times have befallen the back end of Carolina’s defense. Regardless of talented recruiting classes (consistent top- 25 recruiting class finishes, mind you) the secondary hasn’t seen nearly the same success as in years past. However, this year, there is promise. Chris Lammons is expected to contribute heavily, as well as highly-touted JUCO transfer Jamarcus King. Throw in several veterans (Rico McWilliams, Chaz Elder, Jordan Diggs), and this could shape up to be an effective unit with sufficient coaching.

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Are big things in store for Chris Lammons in 2016?
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Chris Lammons, junior

Lammons has the talent and technique to play any position in the secondary, and his versatility is what makes him so valuable. He will play a Tyrann Mathieu-esque role in this Gamecock secondary, making plays and hopefully forcing turnovers. If he can play as well as he has in practice, he could be an All-SEC candidate at either position. His ball skills must improve, as he only has one career interception. If they do, Lammons could be the linchpin to not only the secondary, but the entire defense.

Rico McWilliams, redshirt senior

McWilliams brings experience to the table, and plenty of it. The fifth-year senior has eighteen career starts, but with the presence of King and Lammons, he could be pressed for playing time outside. McWilliams took a personal leave of absence a few days ago but is back in the fold ready to contribute, and will be in the rotation looking to neutralize teams’ outside threats.

Jamarcus King, junior

King might be one of the most important players to this unit due to the sheer expectations that surrounded him coming out of JUCO. A legitimate shutdown option (ten pass deflections last year at Coffeyville Community College), he made the seamless switch from wide receiver to cornerback when he entered college. So far, it’s paid off. Will it translate to success in the SEC? Time will tell, but it’s hard not to be optimistic about his prospects.

Rashad Fenton, sophomore

Fenton showcased his speed last year in the kick return game, a dimension that has been sorely lacking in recent years for Gamecocks teams. That’s one aspect of his game, but another will be mainly at nickel while seeing some time at corner as well. Will Muschamp is hoping that the skill Fenton’s shown on special teams translates to the secondary, where he’ll hopefully be able to shut down the opposition’s deep passing game by defending some of the speedier wide receivers in the league.

Steven Montac, sophomore

Montac was somewhat of a package deal for the Gamecocks with teammate Mark King already in the fold. It’s not know if he’ll see a ton of time in the field as part of the CB rotation along with Lammons, McWilliams, Fenton, and King, but he’s expected to contribute in some form in 2016 and beyond.

Jordan Diggs, redshirt senior

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The news that Diggs’ shoulder was healed up was good news for the Gamecocks, as he’ll see a great deal of time in the strong safety position. Diggs made the switch from LB last year and performed admirably, recording 48 tackles and an interception. He’ll be a steady hand to guide some of the younger guys in the unit, like Montac, King and Fenton.

Chaz Elder, redshirt senior

The name “Elder” is pretty fitting for one of the veterans of the secondary. He didn’t play a lot last year (just two games) but appeared in all but one game in the two seasons before that. He has battled some concussion issues throughout his career, but hopefully he stays healthy enough this season to hold down the safety spot.

D.J. Smith, junior

This season could be a breakout year for Smith, especially with a new coaching staff in place that should be able to take full advantage of his skillset. As much criticism as the secondary received in 2015, Smith did show some good things throughout the season, so those stand to be maximized under Travaris Robinson’s guidance.

Backups

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We could see some of Antoine Wilder (redshirt freshman) and Chris Moody (redshirt senior, above) at some point during the season. Moody has appeared in every game during his tenure and is listed at backup safety behind Elder, while Wilder is behind Rashad Fenton at nickel. Chris Smith was also on the depth chart, but may redshirt with Montac’s late addition.