When Will Muschamp was lobbed a question about his freshman defensive backs early in camp, his message was cautiously optimistic.
He raved about the group’s energy a week into drills but said that’s to be expected. He joked, saying check with him after practice 15 or 16 to see where things stand.
Well, South Carolina entered practice No. 15 Monday afternoon and Muschamp is still pleased with the energy level that corps is bringing daily to practice.
"It is,” Muschamp said when asked if the energy is still good. “We put a lot on them. We teach everything by concepts. Sometimes they have some good moments and not-so-good moments. Jammie (Robinson) has done some really good things at both safety and nickel, and he’s going to be a really good player for us this year. John Dixon has been a guy that's really shown up and had a couple of nice knockdowns in the end zone today on a couple of 50/50 balls that I thought were played extremely well.”
The Gamecocks signed four defensive backs in this year’s class — Dixon, Robinson, Cam Smith and Shilo Sanders — and are putting them right into the fire with a few of those guys getting first-team reps.
Halfway through camp, it looks like Robinson is solidifying his spot as the team’s starting nickel back while also taking reps at safety.
Sanders is also repping at the same two spots while both Dixon and Smith are working exclusively at cornerback behind no-brainer starters Jaycee Horn and Israel Mukuamu.
Coming in and playing in the defensive backfield, especially when the head coach is a defensive back coach by trade, can be difficult at times.
It takes learning a lot of communication and techniques Muschamp and cornerbacks coach Travaris Robinson wants, and things are advancing in the right direction as camp continues.
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“Cam Smith showed up today and made a couple of plays on some balls,” Muschamp said after the second scrimmage. “To be able to see them being in the right spots is what I'm looking for. Shilo has done some nice things. I've been very pleased with all of those guys. Shilo's repped at the nickel position. We've looked at him a little bit at safety as well. I've been pleased with their progress and are all going to play for us this year."
And now the question then becomes who plays this year and how much.
In listening to Muschamp, it seems like all four guys will see action at some point this season.
Robinson seems to be the starter at nickel right now and there might be spots for the other three in the defensive back rotation this season after the two starters and potentially A.J. Turner or at safety behind R.J. Roderick, Jamel Cook, J.T. Ibe and Jamyest Williams.
Even if they don’t get on the field defensively, there will be a spot on the field on special teams.
“I think they’re going to contribute to our team,” Muschamp said. “How much on defense will depend on how they progress, but certainly on special teams."
The Gamecocks are also breaking in a new player in at defensive back after moving Darius Rush over to that spot.
Rush, who redshirted last season with a wrist injury, came in as a receiver and switched over to his new position officially last week. Muschamp said it appears to be a permanent move.
“He was not contributing much at the receiver position and we felt like we wanted to give him an opportunity,” Muschamp said. “Darius is a really good athlete and we felt like giving him an opportunity, maybe a new position and new shot at life and see what happens.”