Injuries give true freshman a chance
COLUMBIA -- They all see flashes, those occasions when true freshman Brison Williams shows the type of athletic, playmaking strong safety he could be in the future for South Carolina. But that's all they are at this point -- momentary teases for Williams' coaches and teammates.
"He's a good player," said cornerback Stephon Gilmore. "You've just got to get it out of him. He tends to sometimes not practice hard, but once he gets practicing hard, he's very athletic, he's got ball skills. I think he can make plays on the ball."
Williams could get his chance in Saturday's Southeastern Conference
finale against Florida at Williams-Brice Stadium -- essentially a must win for the Gamecocks if they are to repeat as SEC East champions.
Junior strong safety DeVonte Holloman is still dealing with the after-effects of a concussion suffered in Saturday's loss at Arkansas. He did not practice Tuesday, and at this point, he is out for Saturday, though that could change, said defensive backs coach Lorenzo Ward. Holloman will not play unless cleared by the trainers.
Ward is preparing this week as if Williams will start, which means getting that good player out of him, as Gilmore said. Williams was rated the 36th-best corner in the Class of 2010 by Rivals.com, then attended prep school last fall and arrived in Columbia in January. He participated in spring practices and was named the team's most improved safety. Then he broke his arm during preseason practices, underwent surgery and was supposed to redshirt.
But after missing the first four games, he ended up debuting against Auburn, to help add depth to the secondary. He played in three of the next four games, including at Arkansas after Holloman got hurt. Williams has seven tackles in his four games -- not a lot of evidence for Ward to determine how ready Williams is to start and help make the defensive calls.
"He has to be ready," Ward said. "I think if Brison knows he's going to play and he'll have an opportunity to play a lot, I think he'll be more focused in practice. Last week, I think he didn't think he was going to have an opportunity to play as much as he did, and wasn't as prepared as well as he should have been. I think now that he knows he's going to play, he'll be better prepared."
Ward saw a sharper attitude from Williams on Tuesday, as he took all the first-team snaps. Gilmore said he noticed a change earlier, as Williams was "trying to ask coach more questions in the meeting room." Williams was not at interviews Tuesday, despite being requested.
When Williams is at his best, he possesses two essential skills for a strong safety: "He does a great job of reading the quarterback and he has the range," said Ward.
But he also is responsible for getting the alignment call from the sideline before the snap and communicating it to his side of the secondary, where Gilmore lines up. Gilmore said Williams "isn't really a talkative player," but thinks he can be more vocal when needed during the game.
Gilmore said communication mix-ups were an issue for USC's secondary a couple times during the Arkansas game. Razorbacks quarterback Tyler Wilson lit up USC for 299 passing yards -- the most the Gamecocks have allowed this season and 163 more than they were allowing, on average, entering the game.
The Gamecocks didn't have their leading tackler, spur linebacker Antonio Allen (strained neck). His replacement, Damario Jeffery, was spotty in pass coverage at Arkansas. Allen is scheduled to return this week. With Allen back, Gilmore feels confident that even if Holloman doesn't play, the secondary should perform better, as long as it communicates properly, against a Florida offense that ranks No. 92 nationally with 189.3 passing yards per game.
"As long as all of us are on the same page, no matter what coverage we're in, nobody can beat us," Gilmore said. "We've got a little bad taste in our mouth from the Arkansas game."